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.