Q: There are a lot of changes coming with FIFA 16, but probably the biggest is the addition of women's teams. Can you talk a little about how that came about?
Nick Channon: We created a prototype over two years ago, where we put a female head on a man’s body just to see how it worked, and really create the list of all the things that we needed to do to do it properly. Doing anything like that we want to do it well – we want to be the most authentic football experience there is. We feel now with the growth of women’s football that women should be part of our game. So we’ve been working on it for a few years, and one of the biggest thing we needed to change is the way we did our body types and our body scaling.
And when we did the prototype we realised that just didn’t work, and the way we scale bodies was too linear, and we had to change that technology. So there was a lot of work around that, we did a lot of work around animation, facial scanning, and we also reworked all of our ratings as well, so an 80 rated woman is different to an 80 rated man. The scales and the attributes that make up a female player are very different. One of the most satisfying things from people playing it over the last couple of months is how different the game feels between the men’s game and the women’s game – that contrasting style.
Q: Can you give us a quick overview of the new features?
Nick Channon: Obviously gameplay is the most important part of any game, but particularly a sports game. As a team this year we stepped back and looked at where we could improve our game. Our technology is incredibly strong, but we ended up touching all areas of the game. As we’ve said in conferences, we’re literally innovating across the entire pitch. We’ve done a lot of work on defending, around responsiveness, and the way the AI work to actually work as a team with you.
In midfield, we’ve really tightened up. Players are now much more aggressive trying to intercept the ball. To counter that we have the paths with purpose – now you can hit that hard pass. We’ve got new shooting mechanics, and new dribbling with the no-touch dribbling. So really, [we are] looking at all areas. We even reworked crossing as well. What that’s done is have a real profound effect on the game. It’s a little bit harder building up in midfield – a little more authentic. Last year the game was a little imbalanced – it was a little easy to get from back to front quickly. So the game feels very different, and we’re incredibly happy with where it is right now.
Q: You talked about metrics and imbalance – is that a matter of data collection?
Nick Channon: We look at what people are saying, what our players are telling us. Playing the game ourselves. Obviously in the making of it, there’s things we couldn’t get to. One of the things we found was lots of people were playing Real Madrid because Bale and Ronaldo are so powerful. And we felt we wanted more variety in the game, to have more people play with different teams. It’s up to them at the end of the day, but the reason they played with that team was because of those two players and a slight imbalance in the game. That got us looking at how we could change it to give more balance and allow people to use different tactics.
Q: Every year FIFA gets more complex. Do you worry about making the learning curve too steep?
Nick Channon: That’s one of the reasons we added the FIFA trainer this year. We’ve had a lot of success in the last few years, and a lot of new people coming in to play our game which is fantastic. We want to give them an experience where they can come and learn the game while playing it. We tested with a lot of new players that had never played FIFA before, and we felt that skill games was a good way to teach them.
But we realised that watching them play, they could go in and learn the shooting skill game or the passing skill game, but when it came to doing it all together, they still struggled. So, we wanted to have something where they could play the game and constantly be reminded of the mechanics. So we put the trainer in as an overlay system, where as you are running around the pitch, it will give ideas for what to do. We’ve found that to be very useful. You can also level it up, so people that have played the game for years there’s always something you might learn – to use a control in a context you didn’t know about.
Q: EA is famous for supporting older consoles with FIFA. Is that limiting in any way?
Nick Channon: We’ll never hold ourselves back. We’ll always be driving forward to make the best game we can, so we will always be looking at the new consoles and how we can get the most out of them. The way we’re set up we’re very fortunate in that we can innovate on the current gen as well. A lot of the features in gameplay are in gameplay on gen three [last-gen] too. Not all of them, but a lot of them are. The women are, as is the trainer. We innovate and offer a great product on gen three as well, and we’ll continue to do that as long as we feel it’s right and as long as the demand is there. The latest technology we’re delivering the game on will always be the focus, though.
Q: You have a massive market share, and realistically only have one (much less successful) competitor. How does the team stay motivated?
Nick Channon: PES have done a fantastic job. Their game last year was fantastic, and I’m sure it’s really, really good again this year. It’s good for players to have a choice. We’re very motivated to make a good game, and we’ll continue to do that. It’s an important game for the company as well, so there’s motivation there. But ultimately I think the most important thing is that we as a team continue to be… I like to think we’re our toughest critics. We gets lots of player feedback, we listen to that. We’re never satisfied. I’m really happy with this year’s game, I think it’s in a really good place. But at the end of each year we sit down and break down how we can make it better.
Q: There’s no 3DS or Vita version this year…
Nick Channon: We look every year at which platforms to bring the game out on, and as I said to you before, the focus is always on the newer console as far as pushing the envelope goes.
◆ Matt traveled to Gamescom courtesy of EA