With the NFL season saved, EA Sports' announcement of the "online communities" feature in Madden 12 matters a little more than it would have a day before. The press release introduces communities as, "a response to massive fan feedback requesting the ability to play online without having to worry about cheaters, quitters, or gamers that don't play by the same rules." I'm not sure it completely addresses those concerns so much as provides another way to create a safe haven for likeminded players to avoid them. Either way, it sounds like a nice addition to the game for helping friends get together to play online.
Communities allow anyone to create their own special group that can include from 2 to 2,000 members. They can be public or invite only, and the creator gets to set the "house rules" for games played in the community. Stats will be tracked for every member to use as bragging rights, the latest games will be displayed, and a private lobby created where members can gather to chat and plan games. Games can be played up to three on three either against other members of your community or in ranked team play against other communities.
It will be interesting to see how well the hoped-for self-policing of a smaller community works out in practice. For small private groups it will probably work like a charm. Larger groups could pose the same problems seen in online forums with disputes over rules, personalities, and the rest of the usual online drama. The system allows each player to join up to five communities at any time, though, so there should be room for a couple with close friends and a couple with bigger groups. We'll see soon enough. Madden 12 comes out August 30.