Madden 15 predicts exact Super Bowl score. Here’s how

The folks at EA Sports run a simulation of the Super Bowl each season
and they’ve been pretty good at predicting the winners, hitting eight
of the last 11 correct.

But Super Bowl XLIX takes the cake.

This
year’s Madden 15 simulation not only predicted the New England Patriots
would win the Super Bowl, but it predicted the exact 28-24 scoreline.

And it doesn’t end there. According to Kotaku.com, the simulation predicted that the Pats would battle back from a 24-14 deficit as well!

Year
after year, sports video games continue to make prodigious jumps in
technology. The companies that produce these games go to incredible
lengths to make them as realistic as possible.

And in doing so,
game designers run simulations. Lots and lots of simulations. EA Sports,
the standard bearer for sports video games, and competitors such as 2K
go to such efforts that it got Covers thinking: Would these simulations
provide any insight into how you should bet games in reality?

The
companies themselves wouldn’t encourage such a move, and understandably
so. They certainly don’t want to be liable for someone blowing his
mortgage payment on whether the Baltimore Ravens can covers the 3-point
spread at the Pittsburgh Steelers Saturday, based solely on a Madden NFL
15 result.

But if the amount of effort put into these simulations is any indication, there might be something to such a strategy.

EA’s
Madden production team did not comment for this article, but Andy
Agostini, the associate producer for EA’s NHL games, provided insight
that likely transfers to the company’s Madden NFL product.

“Our
simulation engine takes into account many factors when pitting two teams
against each other. Each player has over 20 ratings that make up their
skill base,” Agostini said. “Then it looks at the lines that they are
playing on, as well as who is on the ice for their opponent. This will
factor into things such as who gets shots on goal and who is getting
penalties for the teams, based on their ratings.

“So you will see
players like Alex Ovechkin, who usually have the most shots on goal in
the NHL, have that in a season in our game.”

And after shots are determined, the outcomes of those shots come next.

“It
will evaluate the quality of the shot and from where on the ice it is
taken, and throw it at the net, where the goalie ratings will come into
play to see if he is able to stop the shot, based on his ratings and
where on the net the shot was aimed,” Agostini said. “We do this for a
full 60 minutes of ‘simulation hockey.’ We find just as in real life
that there are upsets, whether in the regular season or the playoffs,
but for the most part, we get results that you would expect to see.”


EA Sports’ NHL 15 simulation predicted the L.A. Kings (+1,000) to repeat as Stanley Cup champs.

That’s
in large part due to the thorough effort made in properly rating
players. Agostini said his production team brings in professional
coaches to explain hockey systems and how all five players interact with
the puck and opposing teams, depending on each team’s strategy.
Electronic Arts (EA Sports) also has a professional scout involved to
make the player ratings as accurate as possible.

“The ratings for
each player helps each (of them) play to their strengths and show their
weaknesses,” Agostini said. “So a player like Martin St. Louis is a
great skill player, but if caught by an opposing player, he can be
knocked off the puck due to his size. Or a player like Ryan Getzlaf will
be tough to knock off the puck and plays with power forward tendencies
because of his size and strength.”

While EA Sports does bring in
NHL players to help out on occasion – Agostini specifically noted Dion
Phaneuf, Josh Harding, Max Pacioretty, Jarrett Stoll and Morgan Reilly –
scheduling often makes that difficult to do. But with EA Sports based
in Vancouver, in hockey-mad Canada, it’s easy to find high-level junior
players for EA’s motion capture sessions.

And with the NHL constantly evolving, Agostini said his team goes to great effort to keep the game updated.

“We
are always reviewing the NHL and other league trends to have our
simulation engine be as close to real-world hockey as possible,” he
said. “So if a trend of penalty minutes going down in the NHL happens,
we can simulate that through the tuning of the (simulation) engine. This
can take some time, but our team loves to be as authentic as possible
and spend that necessary time to have the game produce results as close
to reality as possible.”

The folks at 2K take
just as much pride in their NBA 2K15 basketball game. Rob Jones, the
game’s senior producer, says 2K uses analysis to help churn out years of
statistics in orderly to properly rate players.

“We have an
internal simulation engine that actually can run real 2K15 games between
CPU teams in a much faster fashion than just setting two teams up and
watching them,” Jones said. “We use the tool to analyze seasons’ worth
of stats, to ensure that players play accurately and that teams perform
as expected.”

And the results are indeed generally on par.

“While
no simulation can always recreate what the human mind will do, our
analytics tool does seem to spit out fairly accurate representations of
games, outcomes and individual player performances,” he said. “This is
an area where we particularly pride ourselves in being realistic. We go
out of our way to keep track of anomalies, so that we can improve the
computer’s decision making.

“I would characterize our efforts as obsessive.”

And “obsessive” might be an understatement. Jones said that the NBA 2K series has utilized its Signature Styles ever since 2007.

“From
that game on, every game we’ve shipped has accurately portrayed moves,
shots, tendencies of every single player and team,” Jones said. “The
team scouts every single player in the NBA (current and potential), and
all of the coaches and styles to accurately portray them within the NBA
2K series.  It’s a labor of love for fans of the NBA, by fans of the
NBA.

“We spend months in our motion capture studio to capture
moves, mannerisms, celebrations and facial animations to match, just so
that our users can truly be immersed in the world of the NBA.”

And
they get star players to help out in the process. In recent years,
they’ve had Kevin Durant, Stephen Curry, James Harden, Anthony Davis and
Paul George assist, among others.

“Every year, we have a few of
our superstar players come into the office, head to the studio and suit
up to provide us with their signature moves,” Jones said.

It’s all very intriguing stuff. But can the results of these highly calculated simulations be put to use at the betting window?

Well,
EA Sports has at least partially answered that question over the past
11 years, by running NFL Madden simulations in advance of each year’s
Super Bowl. The team that won the Madden simulation has gone 8-3 SU in
the Super Bowl. However, the ATS record is a less impressive 5-6.

Madden 14’s Super Bowl simulation didn’t see the Seahawks’ domination over the Broncos coming.

That’s
about what Aaron Kessler would expect. Kessler, 32, was big on video
games in his past and is now an oddsmaker for the Golden Nugget in Las
Vegas, where’s he worked since 2006. Count him a skeptic on using video
game simulations to garner good betting info.

“I used to play a
fair amount of NCAA Football, back in 2002-2003. It doesn’t really
translate to betting, because of the time-management features,” Kessler
said. “I don’t know if it’s changed much since then. The problem is
these (simulation) engines are designed to produce an entertaining game.
There are so many other prediction models designed to get an accurate
result, so using video games is not the most accurate choice.

“The fine-tuning of the games isn’t great. There are a lot more outlier results out there, in my experience.”

Kessler admitted that problem exists even with models professional bettors use, but it’s more prevalent with video games.

“Video games produce more outliers and have exploits you wouldn’t find in reality,” he said.

On
the flip side, at least to a degree, is Christopher LaPorte, a video
game fanatic – so much so that he opened an arcade/bar in downtown Las
Vegas called Insert Coins. LaPorte hasn’t put his video game expertise
to much use at the sportsbooks, but he said he can certainly see the
relevance of doing so.

“Living in Vegas, I’m aware of statistical
edges that the sharps look for when it comes to wagering,” LaPorte
said. “Using sabremetrics in baseball has been found effective simply
through the use of historical data. ”

But what about betting on results of video game simulations? Is it entirely crazy?

“With
the complexity of video games today, it’s not as far-fetched as you may
think,” La Porte said. “In today’s sporting video game world, the
demand for a true representation of the games has never been greater.
Websites like operationsports.com have assisted in the development of
these games to find the best way to mimic that of real-life play,
allowing development teams to really push technology through the
assistance of online communities.”

Following in-season adjustments may give insight into hidden value in the betting market place.

Specifically,
LaPorte said that games with annual updates – EA Sports’ Madden and
NHL, 2K’s NBA 2K and Sony’s MLB The Show – and even more so in-season
updates could provide useful betting information.

“They all
reflect the game as closely as possible by way of roster updates,
whether weekly or sometimes even daily,” LaPorte said. “Based on trends
in a player’s performance, a player’s ratings in specific attributes are
adjusted. And injury reports will pull the cyber athlete off a roster,
just as in real life.

“So yes, video games could be used as a betting tool, in my belief.”

Kessler said it’s certainly possible, but he’s not sold on it by any stretch.

“Overall,
the guys who design these games do a great job. The games are
entertaining, accurate and realistic,” Kessler said. “But they have
goals other than working on the most accurate projection. I looked at it
back in the day. It’s fun to look at, but the results I was getting
didn’t line up.”

Colin Kelly is a Las Vegas-based contributor for Covers. Follow him on Twitter: @ColinPKelly29.

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