'Madden' is watching

Poor Brett threw over 7 million more interceptions online. AP Photo/Bill Haber

Think Brett Favre's interception against the Saints was costly? That's nothing compared to the 7,564,382 picks Favre threw in "Madden NFL 10." How do I know the exact number of interceptions a polygonal quarterback threw in a video game? EA Sports revealed at Tuesday night's Season Opener event in San Francisco that they have become the Big Brother of sports video game companies, tracking every move, every play call, and unfortunately for Favre, every interception that happens online (and have been since Madden NFL 2004). And with 76-percent of "Madden" users now connected (out of 6 million copies sold), Favre's bad throws start to add up fast. To count all of these statistics, EA even has a dedicated team of employees tracking this user data and they are actually incorporating their findings to help gameplay designers shape the direction of "Madden NFL 11."

And some of the findings are staggering.

The average length of a "Madden NFL 10" game is 63 minutes, but only 17 minutes of this time is spent actually playing the game. The other 46 minutes are spent on things like calling plays, setting up audibles, making substitutions, and watching replays. Another crazy stat thrown out at the event is the fact that while most team playbooks offer an average of 330 plays, the average gamer only uses 13 plays per game.

That is why the tag line for this year's game is "'Madden NFL 11': Simpler. Quicker. Deeper," as EA Sports is looking to not only speed up the time it takes to complete a game, but make the experience geared more toward how people are actually playing "Madden" online according to this user data they've compiled.

"Our online base, our online connected rate continues to rise dramatically," explains "Madden" executive producer Jeremy Strauser. "We're able to now bring a tremendous amount of data in on real-time usage, real-time gameplay, in terms of reports from our connected user base.

"We're bringing in over 173 million data reports ever single day with 'Madden,'" adds Strauser. "We're able to take this real-time data, confirm what's working, what's not working, and make changes to the game real-time while it's consumed."

One example of how this quick-fix ability is a gameplay tweak from last year. When "Madden NFL 10" first shipped, EA started tracking Hit Stick tackles. While 1,135,443,163 were attempted, an astounding 518,959,818 were actually completed, for a success rate of 46-percent. Hit Stick tackles were meant to be a high risk/high reward type feature where gamers whiff and pay the price, but by making 46-percent of these tackles, the high risk part of the equation was almost nullified. So EA Sports went in and made a gameplay change through an online update about a month into the season, and the Hit Stick success rate plummeted down to the levels the game designers originally intended.

As for Favre and his 7 million interceptions? At least now we know that the data is going to good use as one man's mistake could lead to a more refined passing experience in "Madden NFL 11." But just like the Favre retirement watch in real life, we'll just have to wait and see to find out how this one eventually plays out.

Until then, be mindful that everything you do online in "Madden" is being tracked. Think about that next time you go high-stepping down the field only to fumble at the 1. Someone at EA tracked your mistake ... and is probably still laughing.