Donny Moore has one of the coolest jobs on the planet. As one of Madden 11’s developers, he is essentially in charge of compiling ratings for the game’s 2000+ players. Lately, the annual release of the ratings has become an event unto itself, and the increased attention has led to more pressure on Moore to get things right.
We interviewed Moore via email to get a better sense of the more daunting aspects of his job, how exactly he compiles the ratings, and just how he came to be Madden’s “ratings czar.” This is part one. Part two can be found here.
SportsGrid: How did you become the “ratings guru” for Madden NFL? What’s your background?
Donny Moore: First of all, it is the “Ratings Czar” my fine friends at SportsGrid.com! ;) I’ve worked at EA Tiburon since 1999. I was part of the first ever testing group here at Tiburon when we tested NCAA Football 2000 and Madden 2000. I actually got the testing job offer after winning a NCAA Football 99 tournament at the University of Central Florida (I was talking to the now current Madden Senior Producer Phil Frazier and NCAA Football Creative Director Jeff Luhr about bugs in the game, new things they needed to add, told them which players were rated incorrectly, etc).
After testing NCAA 2000, I was offered a full time position as lead tester of NCAA Football 2001. I then went into the design field working on Madden 2002 and Madden 2003. Around that time, we created a centralized group to handle the rosters and player attributes for all of our football games at Tiburon (NCAA, Madden, AFL, NFL Head Coach, etc). I was chosen to lead that group up and along with a great group of guys, and we were in charge of the rosters for Madden/NCAA 2004-2007. At that point, I had an opportunity to join up with Senior Madden designer Josh Looman on Head Coach 09 and create one of the most hardcore football sims ever made for a console. After that, I was asked by Ian Cummings and Phil Frazier to join with them on Madden 10 and 11…and the rest is history.
SG: Can you shed a little light on how you develop the ratings? Is it just you, or do you have a team?
DM: I am in charge of the final numbers but we have a team of designers who contribute to the monster data update process known as the Madden Rosters. We have guys who are in charge of updating all 2000+ players’ equipment. They go online and find photo references of each player in the game and make sure he is outfitted properly in Madden. For player attributes, we use multiple sources and analysis to generate the Madden ratings. We are looking at pure stats from NFL.com, we look at Football Outsiders and use their metrics and data, for example.
SG: How much access are you given by NFL teams?
DM: We get game film from the NFL each week where we are able to watch a play from 4 different angles (minus the commentary and commercials), and it’s the same film that the actual NFL teams are using. In fact, one of our NFL contacts jokes around and calls EA the “33rd franchise” because of all the access we are fortunate to have with the NFL. On top of all that, my team and I have our own opinions and watch every game of the season, so we certainly consider ourselves mini-experts as much time and effort we put into the Madden roster process.
SG: I assume you come up with ratings for speed and strength through Combine stats, like 40 yard dash times and number of bench reps.
DM: It’s a combination of combine times, scouting reports, and game film. For attributes like speed and strength, of course, the 40 time a player runs at the Combine or at his pro day play a big role. But it is not the entire story. We take into account game speed. How fast does this player play with the pads on? They might run a 4.35 forty in shorts and a t-shirt, but with pads on and the simple fact that in football you have to think and run at the same time…well that slows some of the track stars down. It is a big reason that their speed does not translate to the NFL. And we try our best to capture that with the Madden attributes. For stats like QB Accuracy, for example, where we have it split into short/medium/deep accuracy, we use football metrics from websites like FootballGuys, Football Outsiders, Sporting News, and ESPN Insider just to name a few.
SG: How do you determine some of the more abstract ratings, like the always controversial “awareness”?
DM: We treat awareness as a type of experience rating in general. For the most part, you will not have young players or rookies with 90+ AWR right when they enter the league. On flip side, 10 and 12 year vets almost across the board have higher awareness’s than younger guys to simulate more experience or deeper playbook knowledge than you would see in a rookie.
Also check out part 2 of our interview: Moore explains how some players can take the ratings quite seriously, who the most dangerous virtual athlete of all time is, and why he thinks one player in Madden 11 may be the series’ most dominant ever.