Owner mode

Why Owner Mode, introduced in Madden in 2013, explains everything

March 24, 2021
Jonathan Libov

Here’s a theory, eight years in the making. If you had to choose one cultural artifact to represent the shift in American culture to the one we’re experiencing today, that artifact would Owner Mode in Madden, introduced in 2013. It marks the acceleration in the shift from Labor culture to Ownership culture.

I used to love playing the NBA Jam arcade machine at the pizza place as a kid. The game action involved two players from each team; I’d always play as the Phoenix Suns because I loved the color purple and because Charles Barkley. No one would ever play with the Jazz because Utah, because their uniforms were lame, and, mainly, because their two players were Karl Malone and John Stockton, who were DORKS. LeBron put it well a few weeks ago:

“‘I just want to say something, because there’s no slander to the Utah Jazz’, James said with a smile, ‘But you guys got to understand, just like in a video game growing up, we never played with Utah. Even as great as Karl Malone and John Stockton were, we never would have picked those guys. Never.’”

Besides being one of the truest things anyone has ever said, it’s incredibly poignant, because today if you played with the Jazz (more reasonable because their uniforms are now awesome) in NBA 2K21, and their top players were dorks, you’d trade them. Heck, if Utah wasn’t cool enough for you, you could move the team to a cooler city.

I wrote about how strange this is in 2013:

In Madden NFL 25, there is an Owner Mode in which you can move a team from one city to another. You could, for example, move the Dallas Cowboys to Oklahoma City. This is strange for a few reasons:

1) In real life, moving a team from one city to another is a financially-driven maneuver that has nothing to do with the actual sport of football

2) Generally speaking, people revile "greedy" owners for moving their beloved sports franchises out of their city

3) The NFL endorses having its fans play in a fantasy world in which the fundamental elements of their brand—their teams—are created and destroyed

It makes you wonder, what's coming in Madden 26? A Television Executive Mode where you bid on the rights to broadcast NFL games? A Commissioner Mode where you have to testify before Congress about steroids and concussions?

Fast forward to today, and it captures everything about the current moment. Now that...

  • Communication is ubiquitous and instantaneous via the internet
  • Every market can be as liquid as human desire bears
  • APY’s on savings accounts are effectively zero

...assets now trump cash in the bank. NBA Top Shot, crypto, stonks, micro-angel investing, collectibles, NFT’s, game skins, and on and on and on. Laboring for a paycheck that pays out in dollars isn’t cool. You know what’s cool? Appreciating assets.

I bet we’re only months away from a new bank that presents your wealth, first and foremost, as a portfolio [Update: This happened 6 hours after I drafted this post]. In 10 years, maybe your US dollar savings account is as tertiary as that SEP IRA you opened the year you had consulting income; secondary or maybe even primary is the account that holds your Luka Dončić highlight* from which you dollar cost average out, every month, as a means to pay the rent. Perhaps it’ll be implicit, but that bank will have you think, just like any professional investor, in terms of cost of capital. That’s one of the things the internet does best: Obliterating the meaning of “professional”.

(*Or the meme template. If that’s you, please get in touch)

If you skipped clicking on the first link in this post, I’d encourage you to do it, because the headline of that NY Times article is now perfectly quaint: “Examined, the Virtual Life Is Worth Living”.

Now, in 2021, we have the wisdom to see that it Always Has Been.