This will be the third year EA Sports runs a March Madness-style vote-off for the cover of Madden NFL and on the whole, I've really enjoyed the first two. It's a fun bar argument and the promotion is well run in conjunction with ESPN. Anthony Stevenson, the game's chief marketer, has been forthright with me about how candidates are chosen and how they're signed.
But yesterday, when EA Sports decided to conduct a "play-in" vote over Twitter between Jerry Rice and Cris Carter for the last of the tournament's 64 bids, I wanted to throw my iMac at the door. Enough of this. This isn't fun and it isn't interesting to fans. It's harvesting them for someone's social media growth report.
That's why I haven't written anything about NCAA Football 14's cover voting since January 25, when they finally got around to teasing actual human cover candidates after a Facebook pep rally dragged on for more than a month. When it wraps up on Friday, this contest will have lasted 84 days. I adore the NCAA Football series but it beggars the imagination that anyone could possibly care that much about the game's cover star — traditionally one of the weakest in sports video games because they can't use current college players.
NCAA Football's vote-off has been a blobby, translucent, barely understandable mess from the first day. Originally they were tallying "likes" on the game's official page. Then somehow tweeting about a school got it a vote. That didn't inspire much confidence that EA Sports wasn't just making up the schools that would make the cut when the thing moved into a third format, Facebook polling.
Facebook polls are the worst for this sort of thing because the running total is always exposed to the user, robbing the whole process of any mystery, let alone news, that makes participating worthwhile in the first place. Right now, Denard Robinson of Michigan-who should have been named the cover star back on December 14, as the best senior from the biggest school — is leading Ryan Swope of Texas A&M by about 14,000 votes. Robinson's going to win; we don't have to run the announcement on Friday.
Madden's only doing this for a "play-in" (to determine a "legend" candidate taking the place of the 11-year-old Houston Texans on that half of the bracket.) MLB 13 The Show ran a Twitter campaign for its cover star though, mercifully, it lasted only a week. I hope, with Madden it's the end of it for good, because it's an obnoxious means of padding out a corporation's social media presence more than it is fan service.
We're in the final stages of box art being a meaningful product feature because, well, where we're going, there ain't gonna be no boxes. But it still matters in sports video gaming, where the news is received as a kind of Wheaties-box honour. Putting that in the hands of fans is fine but by now it feels like we're voting on the individual flakes of cereal more than the guy on the front.