EA's odd claims around Xbox Smart Delivery and Madden 21 don't add up

Madden NFL 21
Madden NFL 21 (Image credit: EA)

Electronic Arts has extended its limited-time upgrade offer for Madden NFL 21, introduced to streamline the transition from Xbox One copies, to the next-generation Xbox Series X. The next installment in the hit football series saw its debut at Microsoft's Xbox Series X gameplay showcase in May. While details remain tight, the publisher has committed to a free upgrade from Xbox One to Xbox Series X versions, albeit with a catch.

Madden NFL 21 provides Xbox One buyers with an opportunity to receive a free Xbox Series X version of the game via a limited-time upgrade offer, eliminating the need to buy the game twice. That differs from Microsoft's Smart Delivery program, a similar but standardized initiative for easy Xbox Series X upgrades, directly integrated into the Xbox Series X system.

Electronic Arts' own system featured several caveats, including the requirement to manually claim their complimentary copy by March 2021. The approach sparked controversy, perceived to neglect Microsoft's formal upgrade process by establishing a more restrictive offer for consumers, instead. But with the publisher now further expanding on the reasoning behind the move, we're left wondering what's happening behind the scenes.

Xbox Series X Controller

Source: Microsoft (Image credit: Source: Microsoft)

Electronic Arts recently revised its Madden "Next Level" webpage in response to feedback, with additional context around the free upgrade (as spotted by Polygon) and an extension to the deadline. While Madden NFL 21 won't utilize Smart Delivery, it plans to extend the offer "all the way through our Madden 21 season up to the release of Madden NFL 22." That means players can claim their free upgrade through the main lifespan of Madden NFL 21 until the next entry drops, likely midway through 2021.

The revision also provides additional context around its decision to shy away from Smart Delivery support, instead offering its third-party program. It describes Madden NFL 21 for Xbox One and Xbox Series X as "two distinct Madden NFL 21 experiences."

"This means we won't be taking advantage of Microsoft's Smart Delivery technology," Electronic Arts states. "Instead we'll be fully realising the power of Xbox Series X and will be partnering with Microsoft to offer Dual Entitlement – ensuring that, even though our next generation experience will include new features unavailable to the prior generation, players who purchase an Xbox Series X will be able to upgrade from Madden NFL 21 on Xbox One to the Xbox Series X experience at no additional cost."

Xbox Series X Teardown

Source: Microsoft (Image credit: Source: Microsoft)

The statement implies Electronic Arts treats the two versions as wholly separate experiences, with its "Dual Entitlement" to bridge the gap instead. However, that goes against several fundamental traits previously outlined surrounding Smart Delivery, which by nature allows developers to distribute several versions of games, per console, for free. Microsoft's solution allows for multiple, detached packages geared toward each console — with the correct fork downloaded to your console automatically. The problem Electronic Arts discusses appears to be exactly what Smart Delivery was designed to solve.

The proposed system leaves the technicalities of cross-generation upgrades increasingly confusing, exposing unreported limitations surrounding Smart Delivery, or masking an underlying policy from Electronic Arts. Fulfilling similar roles to Microsoft's own offerings, but marred by hard limitations, the nature of the upgrade path opens to the door for further sales after the period expires.

Expect additional details surrounding Madden NFL 21 over the coming weeks, with its full unveiling recently postponed, in respect for current world events.

Xbox Series X/S


Matt Brown

Matt Brown was formerly a Windows Central's Senior Editor, Xbox & PC, at Future. Following over seven years of professional consumer technology and gaming coverage, he’s focused on the world of Microsoft's gaming efforts. You can follow him on Twitter @mattjbrown.

  • It's somewhat difficult, I would say, to implement Xbox smart delivery on playstation. So I can see why they would want to standardize their practices for both ecosystems.
  • Yeah, I can see that. It depends on what PS is doing. At the same time, how is Ubisoft doing it with AC and not seeming to have an issue with it?
  • When I think of corporate, money first. I think EA. Ubisoft likes to try new things. Making exclusives with Nintendo. Drawing pads. Artsy games. So this just might be them dipping their toe in the water.
  • No not difficult to do. Just that Sony hasn't taken a stance on how they will handle all this. Or maybe the want to force gamers to double dip so Sony can add more coin to the company bottom line. Sony has made it very clear they are done with this gen and are abandoning the PS4 (from a first-party perspective) as soon as Ghost of Tsushima is released. Perhaps they see no need to allow this type of service to exist if they themselves will not practice it. Are they going to practice it? For example, I look at what they have said for a game like TLOU2 working on the PS5 but, I am getting the sinking feeling now that instead of updating your copy to a full PS5 enhanced version (which most think it means) they are just saying if you bought it on PS4 that version will work via their implementation PS4 BC. Which may mean if you want to a specific PS5 enhanced version that will surely arrive at some point you will have to rebuy it (like you had to with PS3 TLOU this gen on PS4). If that is true you going to see a lot of pissed off gamers. As for a service all Smart Delivery is really just a nice marketing name for an Intelligent Delivery service and Sony has already made it clear they will allow ways to download pieces of the game you want. Or at least they said it was going to be a feature a while back. So, if you only want to play the campaign (or perhaps just the firs part/chapter) or are only interest in multi-player then if implemented by a the developer Sony digital delivery service will supposedly allow you to do so. Not much more complicated then that.
  • I was being sarcastic, saying that since Sony didn't announce annmything, they can't do the same implementation of delivering the concept of smart delivery on both platforms. Hence them wanting to standardize their practices.