FourFourTwo spoke to EA Sports Creative Director Matthew Prior at a preview event in Singapore recently, after giving the FIFA 16 demo a spin (lucky us!)...
How do you come up with new features to implement in FIFA every year?
We’ve got a big long list of things we want to improve. A lot of that is driven by our community, which we have a good relationship with. It’s a case of prioritisation – certain features make sense at certain times. The women for example this year, we’ve been wanting to do that for many years. But now was kind of the perfect time to do it because we’ve got to a level of sophistication with our underlying systems, like the physics engine and all the rest of it, that allowed us to tune it to authentically represent the women’s game.
So yes, there’s a hierarchical laundry list of what we want to do – some of that is driven by the community, some of that is driven by the feedback from the previous game. We obviously have an idea of how it will be received, but once you put it out there and there’s millions and millions of games happening every day, you sometimes get feedback that you didn’t expect. So it’s a combination of those things. Kind of a list and then community feedback and then if the World Cup’s on, there might be World Cup-related features.
What are you referring to when you say ‘community’?
[I’m referring to] our gamers, the people who play and who we deal directly with on certain aspects of the game as we monitor the forums. We get a lot of feedback and we get a lot of people in to focus-test the game. So yeah, the most important people and that’s the people that buy and play our game religiously.
So what keeps FIFA fans buying the game every year?
I think it’s the fact that we improve it significantly year-on-year. It’s a hard process so we need to be very specific with what we think will make a big impact. We want to keep a reason for people to pick it up and play it every year, so it’s important that the features that we do choose are sufficiently game-changing that there’s a reason for people to pick it up and play.
That can be challenging because we run a very short cycle, we come out at a similar time annually and that isn’t going to change, whereas another game might have the opportunity to try whole things out and 'oh that didn’t work, let’s push our release date out two months'. We don’t have that luxury because we’re tied to the real world. So I think it’s one of our strengths in that we do pick the features well to give people a reason to buy it year-on-year.
How much work goes into allocating stats to each player?
So that’s a big job. We have an army of what we call data collection guys and they are around the world. They’re localised, so we have a bunch of guys in Japan and a bunch of guys in Germany … all the various territories. It’s their job to watch games and provide the data stats. There are dozens of stats for each player, things like acceleration, tackling, strength, yada yada … it’s their job to provide the stats and that’s a hugely important part of the game because that’s essentially … we want users to when they play Ronaldo, it feels like Ronaldo or when they play like Messi, it feels like Messi. So that is a very complex system that goes into that and it’s something we continually try to improve every year.
It’s interesting because almost unanimously all the [professional footballers] play our game which is great to see, but one of the funny things is I guarantee when we meet them they’ll say, ‘Oh my stats aren’t good enough in the game, I’m faster or I’m better at shooting’. It’s common feedback from the players that they feel that they’re underpowered in FIFA so it’s always interesting to hear.