At Gamescom this year, I was lucky enough to be given a sneak peek at this year’s edition of EA’s blockbuster flagship football franchise. And whilst the “gen 4” powered XBox One, Playstation 4 and PC versions certainly looked impressive in terms of their Ignite Engine visuals, the game’s silky smooth 60 frames per second action wowed even more. Even as a casual footballing observer, I was thoroughly impressed with what Electronic Arts had been able to achieve using “next gen” technology, and so as to find out a little bit more about EA’s rendition of the “beautiful game”, I managed to corner Sebastian Enrique (Lead Producer) and ask him about what was certainly shaping up to be the best version of FIFA yet. Enjoy the interview…
What is the main difference between FIFA 15 and FIFA 14? What do you think FIFA 15 brings to the table that FIFA 14 wasn’t able to deliver?
Well many, many things. Responsiveness is the first thing that comes to my mind. It’s something that we got feedback last year, in some situations players were not feeling
Do you think those improvements justify the price tag?
Well I’m not the one who sets the price, but to me, usually when FIFA comes out it’s not the price of every single game. When we build a game and we decide what features that this year’s game is going to have, we make a conscious effort to make something that is quality and something that, if I were my own consumer and I only had $60 in the case of the price or I’ve got $70 in Canada or the US, there is worth in that purchase. I think what we’ve achieved is totally worth it.
FIFA 14 had a new engine attached to it, which was in preparation for EA Sports to take the franchise next generation. What advantages do you think this engine has been able to give you, not only from a playability perspective, but also in terms of the kind of features you can implement that the previous engine wasn’t able to deliver?
I think primarily it’s the sharing. On gen 3 there was not that much working in conjunction with the other EA Sports teams. So yes we were talking with Madden, we were talking with NHL, but usually it was only talking about what we wanted to do and everyone was kind of going on and doing their own solutions. Working on a common engine we had multiple minds working on a single solution and then having minor adaptations here and there, but at the end of the day, more people contributing toward the same goal allows everyone to reap the advantages. Just a small example, this year what we’re introducing in FIFA is dynamic hair which we didn’t have in the past. Dynamic hair is a solution that the UFC team came out with and because it was implemented within the Ignite Engine and technology we were able to take it. We have 22 characters on the pitch or more, UFC has only two, but with some minor adaptations it was totally workable for us.
FIFA is coming out on next gen as well as previous gen consoles. Do the previous gen consoles use the next gen engine, even if it’s cut down?
No, it’s different. On gen 3 we [will] keep using the original FIFA engine and where it’s possible the team is taking pieces and components of the stuff that is being developed on gen 4. They’re adapting that gen 4 content and optimizing heavily to make it work on gen 3, but not everything is doable so it’s very selective pieces that they can take from the Ignite engine.
In terms of features, will FIFA “last gen” have the same number of features as FIFA “next gen”?
So next gen has more things that were not available on gen 3. There’s something that we internally call ‘future physics’, and it was related with the awareness that was gen 4 only [due to] processing power. Basically what it does is every player can run a future physics simulation of the next 16 frames, and this allows players to start avoiding collisions, you see better use of the arms and legs. It allows for a better and more fluid game. With those kinds of things there is not enough processing power to do on gen 3 they cannot be done directly. This year the gap is higher because we’re truly starting to take advantage of the power and memory of gen 4 consoles.
How many people are working on the next gen versions of FIFA?
The stable team is around 80 people. That doesn’t include groups, like the group providing the art; a lot of that is outsourced. Then there is a certification group that deals with certification for all the EA titles, localization the same thing. The core group of engineers, production, design and management is around 80 people.
You mentioned the word “outsourced”, one of the things that a single studio can do is maintain a consistent level of quality. When you outsource asset generation to various people and subgroups, it’s really hard to be able to get consistent results. How do you ensure that the outsourced work is consistent with your own standards? And how do you ensure that the work that your outsourcing partners generate lives up to the expectations of FIFA fans?
It’s a challenge like anything else, but the ways I’ve seen the art team doing it is primarily they start by doing a vigorous examination to select the outsourcing partners that become the real partners at the end of the day for EA sports. Then what they do is a lot of training, they fly people to our studio, people from our studio fly over there to train and teach our quality standards. Then it’s reviewing, constant reviewing. Not because it means you’ll get better or less quality, I do a lot of reviewing myself even for the people working internally at EA Canada. It’s reviewing feedback, and constructive feedback where you mentor people, it’s not destructive feedback. Any outsourced partner is treated as if they were part of the team because they truly are. Everyone that contributes to a team – from the people doing QA internal or external, to project management that has no clue how about the game, or even ourselves defining features of the game. Everyone that contributes to the game is important to the game. We encourage everyone to call it “our game”, not “your game” or “the game”, not “this is our game”. It’s making a family out of it.
Have you played recent versions of PES (Pro Evolution Soccer)?
Yeah I play PES every year.
Have you played this year’s build?
I tried it out.
How do you think PES compares to FIFA in terms of the features that they’ve been able to implement versus what you’re trying to do?
Well, it’s not something that I will answer because I don’t like to make political comparisons between PES and FIFA. What can I say of PES? Making a Football game is extremely complicated I can tell you that by experience. PES is a really good game by Konami. PES is a really good game.
For political reasons, I’m not going to ask you to tell me which one is better. I’m just asking what are the differences between PES and FIFA?
I’ll leave you to tell us the differences.
Because I don’t want to go all Kotaku and basically have a click-bait headline… One thing I would like to ask you about – PES has a team in Tokyo, and a team in London, Windsor I believe. Have you ever thought about making your development span in a global context? Because FIFA is worldwide…
FIFA is in a global context. I think the last time we checked, on our team we speak 22 different languages. If you think about it, I didn’t even think there were that many languages in the world, that’s my ignorance. We have a very diverse team. Like I’m Argentinean for example, we have Brazilian, Colombian, Mexican and Peruvian people. We have people from Malaysia, Nigeria and Uganda. We have people from Europe, like people from the UK, Italy, France, Macedonia, New Zealand, Australia, Japan, and China. It’s a really truly diverse team. I am constantly waking up at 7AM to have calls with people in Europe that are contributing to our game dealing with licensing, or business affairs, localization. So, the team is global and that diversity allows us to make a much better product worldwide because it’s something that we love. We come into the office every Monday and everyone is sharing the cool stuff that they watched over Football weekend in their respective countries and leagues, it’s fantastic.
You’re looking at launching FIFA World, which I believe is a very cut-down version of FIFA 15…
Well it’s different, it’s not a cut-down version of FIFA 15. FIFA World is actually based on the FIFA 13 gen 3 engine, and it’s meant to… There aren’t many different experiences, or ways that you can experience FIFA on different platforms. FIFA World is targeted as free-to-play for PCs that are not as powerful. That’s the reason why they are running with that engine, and they’re focusing on building features and experience and user interface targeted for that free-to-play PC low-spec audience. What we’re building in terms of gen 4 on PS4, Xbox One and PC is more like the high end experience, the premier experience as we like to call it.
Do you think FIFA 15 will ever be in danger of having its sales cannibalized by what is essentially the very same game, but a stripped-down and an old tech version which is free?
I wouldn’t call it that. I don’t think it’s a cut-down version, it’s a version that is targeted for that consumer base. But no, I don’t think it’s cannibalized. I think models change, business models change. We’ve seen what happened in the music industry for example, that everything went digital. People change – behaviors how they consume, be it entertainment or any other thing. As a business, game companies just adapt to that. What FIFA offers as a franchise is just a portfolio of different experiences on different platforms that is targeted for different needs.
Last question: With EA Access, which is basically a subscription model, you’ve taken the FIFA experience online. You’ve mentioned how business models are changing and how everything is going digital and next gen technology is enabling people to be able to have those experiences and allow content creators such as EA to be able to deliver those experiences in additional formats. Do you think there will ever come a time when FIFA, and this is mere speculation because obviously the business model works for you guys, do you think there will ever come a time when FIFA might consider selling people a digital subscription? Like yearly access where basically it would be like Facebook, where you have the host or the code on your main machine and it’s all done via Cloud services where you’re able to constantly update the game that way? And you don’t have to worry about yearly updates?
It’s a very interesting question, I think anything can happen. What is important for us is being able to be ready, or to create our own future in that sense. Anything can happen, I’m pretty sure the brains are actually working on different business models and analyzing all the different situations. But today what we’re doing is this and we’re focusing on finishing FIFA 15 in my case, but in terms of business models anything can happen. The important thing, not just for EA, but for every company that is selling something or making a business out of something will be adapting or seeing that change early enough to be able to continue creating great products and services for what the people need.
Thank you very much.