As Senior Product Manager, Lucian Cotreanti is responsible for worldwide marketing for EA Sports FIFA franchise on mobile platforms, and works directly with the product development team so as to ensure that the Romanian team builds upon previous successes, and carves a superior version of the beautiful game. By doing so, not only does this enable him to formulate and execute effective marketing plans, but it also allows Lucian to proudly proclaim FIFA as being the world’s most authentic football sports videogame on the market to date.
At Gamescom this year, Lucian Cotreanti was showcasing the upcoming FIFA 15 Ultimate Team for mobile platforms, and was more than happy for me to ask him a whole heap of questions on the game. And even though the mobile version of FIFA didn’t enjoy the same level of attention as its HD counterpart, it never-the-less allowed me to get to ask one of the franchise’s more senior members, and find out as to what the future held for FIFA.
FIFA 15 is coming out this year on mobile as well?
So, FIFA 15 Ultimate Team is what it’s going to be called on mobile, and yes it’s coming this fall at about the same time frame as the console game is.
Was there a FIFA 14 for mobile?
Yes, there was.
In terms of development resources, can you say much about the 3DS and Vita versions of FIFA 15?
I’m in charge of FIFA for smartphones and tablets, so I can’t really speak
How big is the team that works on the mobile version of FIFA 15 Ultimate Team?
It’s pretty difficult to say because there are a lot of different resources that come together for FIFA on all [the] different platforms. We have a server support team for instance that’s working across all platforms, or the football live team that’s pushing live content inside the game on a weekly basis. All those teams are coming together, working on a certain product. I would say that the team that is just working on the mobile product is around 40 people, something like that.
That’s quite a big number for a mobile phone title…
Yes, but the thing is that is not just a mobile title. It’s EA Sports FIFA for mobile devices, so what that means is that the standard is set just as high as it is for consoles in terms of what is the experience that we’re delivering on mobile.
How do you think FIFA “mobile” compares to FIFA “console / next gen”?
I would say that the two experiences are very complimentary of each other. In terms of when you would play each of the games, when you’re at home with your console you would obviously play the console game. For whatever other time you might have, whether you’re on the subway on your way to work, or you’re waiting for you airplane in the airport, or just on a lunch break or something like that, you would have FIFA on your mobile device. The two experiences are fairly different. The mobile game is built as a mobile experience.
We’ve had games such as Beyond: Two Souls on Sony’s PS3 platform which used the iPad as a control mechanism. I don’t know too much about the technical aspects, but is there a way for FIFA mobile players to be able to somehow take their stats and get game play records to the console version and vice versa?
There is no cross-platform functionality like that. One of the reasons is, for instance, on mobile this year we’re going to be replacing the Origin login with Facebook login because that’s much more friendly for your regular handheld devices such as phones and tablets. Having different platforms used for logging into the game… obviously it’s basically impossible to match those users against each other. Some of them are definitely playing across different platforms, but if they’re logged in with Origin on consoles and they’re logged in with Facebook on their mobile or tablet, we can’t match those two together.
Now, this obviously doesn’t HAVE to be mobile players versus PC players in a one-to-one match, it’s just a case of stats. Would you be able to take your stats from your mobile device, and bring it to your PS3 version and vice versa?
That’s something that we had in FIFA 14 because we had Origin in both games, so through EA Sports Football Club you were able to gather those experience points and have those available to you on all platforms just as long as you would be logging in with the same Origin account. As I said, that’s no longer going to be the case for FIFA 15 Ultimate Team because we are removing Origin from the game.
Why is that?
Well, because Facebook login is much more friendly for mobile devices. Everyone has Facebook on their device, so it’s much [more] friendlier for them to just log in with their Facebook account instead of generating a new account to a different platform, which is Origin.
The controls for FIFA, current gen or next gen… they’re very complicated. They use a myriad of button configurations. Obviously the iPad and the mobile phone market doesn’t have access to even a single button, it has the screen. How were you able to translate the button configurations to mobile platforms?
One thing that’s for sure is that FIFA on mobile platforms has a lot fewer controls than it does on consoles. On mobile we started with just the basic controls, so you would have the joystick on the touchscreen on your left hand, and then on your right hand you have shoot, pass, and sprint. Then we added some more buttons to that, we added through-ball pass button. When you’re defending you would have other buttons as well, one is press and tackle, one is slide tackle and the other ones would be sprint and so on.
Now, with iOS 6 [Apple] have standardized game pad support. Will the mobile version of FIFA be able to support game pad features for iPad or iPhone on iOS 6?
Actually this is a first for us, so for the first time on mobile platforms this year we’re going to be supporting game controllers for both Apple devices and Google Play devices, or Android devices, so yes.
How much development time went into FIFA 15?
For us we have a definite date each year, and we know each year when the next one has to come out, so even before the development cycle ends on one title there’s already a team that’s working on the next one. That’s how it works. It’s a year, plus something with a smaller team.
What are the main differences between FIFA 14 and FIFA 15?
With FIFA 14 we went freemium for the first time on mobile.
The FIFA game is the best football experience on any of the platforms, and that’s the ultimate goal.
How is that business model working out for you guys?
It’s working out great. One thing that we achieved through going freemium was the fact that we could have a lot more fans and users from around the world get to play a FIFA game on their mobile devices. We had a huge install base compared to the year before when we were premium. The great thing about that is, I mean we always take a lot of pride in the fact that we are always looking at what our users are playing, how they’re playing, how they’re engaging with the game, and then also we take a lot of feedback through consumer satisfaction surveys that we run in-game and things like that. Having that huge install base made it a lot easier for us to decide on what the direction should be for FIFA on mobile platforms – based on all the feedback that we’ve gathered from users and all the telemetry data that we gathered from them.
Going back to your point, what’s different; looking at what people have been playing in FIFA 14, we’ve seen the vast majority of our players engaging with two of the game modes: FIFA Ultimate team and Matches of the Week. So the first decision that we made this year was to strip down all the other game modes in order to be able to concentrate all of our development capacity into making the best possible experience in FIFA Ultimate Team for mobile devices. That’s the first difference, hence the change in name. So, when FIFA is going to come out this fall on mobile devices it’s going to be called FIFA 15 Ultimate Team.
In terms of what we’ve put behind that, and how we’ve enhanced the experience this year, as I said we are looking at what users are playing and how they are playing it. This year we’ve introduced a new set of controls to FIFA which were tailored to work for touchscreen devices so we would no longer have buttons on your screen and you would just do your moves through taps and swipes and things like that. That was very well received by both our users and the media and things like that. Looking at how users are playing the game, still the vast majority of them are playing classic controls. So one thing that we did was basically build this hybrid control system that is built on the classic control system but also has gesture controls as an option. Then one of the controls that has been requested by our users a lot from consoles was the though-ball pass. We added to the classic controls a button that is now enabling our users to do through-ball passes. Another very cool thing that we did is we added something that we’re calling “tactical dribbling” to the game. You would tap twice on your joystick and your player would move into close control of the ball, and doing something like that with a player like Messi who’s very technical, it gives a very cool experience for the users inside the game.
The big thing that we’re introducing this year on mobile is a whole new way of playing Ultimate team and engaging with the game, which is a quick simulation match. For the users that are not big fans of playing the twitch match and controlling the game player by player and then face by face, we’re introducing this new way of engaging with the game where the game is being simulated on your screen, so you would have the managerial perspective on how things are going (so-to-speak). So you would set your squad up for the match, you would start to see exactly how it’s progressing, you would be able during the match to change your tactics, to change the effort that your team is putting into it, to make substitutions and things like that. On the screen over the pitch you would have a heat map that’s colored with green and red depending on how well your team is performing in different areas of the pitch, so you would see a red area on the pitch and that would mean that your player is not performing that great against his opponent from the other team so you would make changes like substitutions or things like that.
Quick Sim is adding a whole new layer of authenticity to the game because since it’s no longer based on how well you perform moving your fingers on the screen, the match is simulated purely on real life facts, if you will, of football. It’s based on how good your squad is, how good the chemistry between your players is, are the players playing at their preferred position or in their preferred formation, are they coming from the same nation or same league, things like that. It’s as real as it gets in terms of how your team is performing against another one. This is a great game mode for people who like more of a managerial type of play, and they like to gather great squads then engage and see how well they’re doing just making decisions and not actually performing within the game.
Now obviously the mobile version of FIFA is, the product itself and how it plays is always dictated by user feedback based on previous versions. But the things is, and that’s the same approach that the consoles versions have. But if you have a branch and it splits in two, which is essentially what I’m trying to get at here… It’s like you’ve got the mobile version, you’ve the console version, even though it’s the same franchise, there comes a point when, because of the strengths and weaknesses of the host platforms, the branches split and then there is a danger that they could go off in wildly different directions where it’s not even like that, it’s more like this. For somebody who’s coming to FIFA Mobile from FIFA console, or FIFA next gen, how much of… Obviously this could be a degree of familiarity, but as I said before, the direction that FIFA 15 is going to take is going to be largely dictated by what people expect, and what people’s needs and requirements were based on how FIFA 14 did. But how much of a synergy is there between the two versions, [and in short] are you ever in dialogue with the console team?
Yes, we are always in dialogue. We’re working as one team, if you will. We’re always consulting with each other and feature sets and stuff like that. Obviously there are features that are being developed that are very platform specific that wouldn’t work on mobile and vice versa, but the team is working as one. All the different product teams are working with each other building the game on all platforms because at the end of the day, the point is that the FIFA game is the best football experience on any of the platforms, and that’s the ultimate goal.
That’s a bold thing to say. I might have to make that as a headline.
So the teams are always working together, and we always have to have the new title be at a very high level in terms of quality. We’re not making any compromises based on anything. We’re making the most out of the platform that is available to us in terms of developing.
Who would you regard as being your main competitors in the mobile market from a football perspective?
That’s not something that we usually touch on. The mobile market is slightly different because there are obviously a ton more titles than there are on consoles. We don’t look at… I mean, we look at it from the perspective that our main competitor is FIFA 14. We always have to top the performance that we did last year on the game.
Even though it’s a free product, is it a freemium product by which you have in-app purchases?
Yes, we do have micro-transactions in the game, but it’s nothing that we’re forcing on users. There are no timers or gates or something that like that you wouldn’t be able to get past without spending money in the game. Just to give you an example, everything that is available on Ultimate Team, whether that’s opening packs in the store or trading with other players in the auction market, everything is working through the in-game currency which is coins. It’s a currency you can only earn by playing matches, so you would get rewarded with coins, or by trading with other players on the auction house by buying cheap and selling high. That’s something that you can use for anything inside the game. Premium currency, the only thing that you can use it on is opening packs. Spending money in the game would probably get you to a big club faster because you would be able to open more packs, but then again you can just play the game and earn those coins and use those coins to open packs. So there are no gates inside the game forcing users to spend money.
Do these in-app purchases carry over to the next version of the game?
No they don’t because our game is setup as a live service first and foremost, so whenever we come out with a new title we would have all new content being pushed and it’s a totally different SDK at the end of the day. However, whatever premium currency users might have bought and still have in FIFA 14, they will be able to continue FIFA 14 and spend money inside that game.
So in a roundabout sort of way what you’re essentially arguing is that FIFA on mobile, because it’s a free product, after one year people essentially get a substantial update, which obviously is the next version?
It’s not an update, it’s a completely new game as it is for consoles. So we’re not updating, we’re going to be putting this title on top of the other one, so FIFA 14 users will still be able to keep playing FIFA 14. FIFA 15 Ultimate Team users will start the game from scratch, so there are two different titles. Just as if it were two different games.
Do you think that maybe detracts from the seamlessness of what FIFA can give users? For example Facebook, it’s one platform, it’s an online social networking platform that constantly throws out updates… You don’t have to go from version 1.1 which was like in 2004 or whatever it is to 2014. It’s like what you had before is what you had now, you don’t have to update.
I understand what you’re saying. The difference between Facebook as you said and our game is that our game is very much tied to what’s happening in real life football. Just as in real life football you would have a season that would last for a year and then next September a new season, it’s the same with the game. So we would launch a new title because you have players moving teams, you have players stats changing from one game to the other, then a lot of features that are being put inside that game that for instance wouldn’t work with the engine that you had last year and things like that. So it’s always a new title because we’re starting from scratch and delivering a new product that’s meant to top the one that we had before.
If you look at FIFA and what is represents, it’s substantially different from what FIFA used to represent back during the early 32-bit era, and even the early PS2 era where basically… because of the lack of competition, EA got complacent and the quality control suffered as a consequence. Some people argue, and that’s essentially what’s happened with Nintendo to an extent because they haven’t perceived competition and they’re work output has deteriorated substantially over the last couple of years because of that. They’ve grown too fat basically. Going to back to what I asked earlier about who are your main competitors, with there being no substantial competitor in the market-place, and I know you’ve talked about how topping previous versions of FIFA is your main competitor, that’s great in terms of PR and I’m not asking you to say something that isn’t PR talk, because like I said I’m not Kotaku. With so few competitors on the market-place, does that not engender a feeling of complacency where you go “we’ll we just need to add a few more features, and because this title is free we don’t really have to work that hard”. I mean obviously from your perspective you want to get up in the morning, you want to deliver the best product you possibly can because ultimately when we all die we want to be able to say “we achieved something”. Nobody wants to do a crappy job at the end of the day, but still at the end of the day you’re being paid by EA and it’s a business at the end of the day. We’ve seen before in the past where EA has put out a product that hasn’t been that much dissimilar from the previous product because there are no competitors in the marketplace, I can only talk about the 3Ds and Vita version as an example and we don’t have to go too much into specifics but people just say, “well that’s just a re-skin and that’s all it is”. Again, I’m not asking you to comment on that. But do you think that there is a danger for FIFA on mobile to become stagnant because there’s nothing that’s really ultimately pushing you?
Well, I don’t really think that’s the case on either FIFA “HD” or FIFA “Mobile” only because you would have Metacritic and users would compare your new game to the previous one since they already have a FIFA title on their device it’s actually very important for us to convince them that the new title is worth having as well.
We believe that we are delivering the most authentic football simulation experience on every platform.
Which is free anyway, so it’s almost like there’s no risk from their perspective.
I mean yes it is free, but still there’s always going to be comparison between the two titles. There are several football experiences available on mobile, none of them as authentic, none of them having all the licenses that we have or the Twitch experience. We are better than the other football titles that are out there.
Well, yes. I mean…
Because again, I don’t want you to lose your job over a PR blunder where you say “we’re better than every football game on console too”.
No, I mean we believe that we are delivering the most authentic football simulation experience on every platform and that is to talk about all the licenses that are available in the game, all the real players, real teams, and real leagues. Everything like that makes the experience that we’re offering different from any of the other ones. We really think that having competition is really healthy, so we’re not dismissing any of the competitors. That’s by no means what I was saying. I’m just saying we always have to top our previous experience because it’s still the football fans that we’re targeting with the new titles. It’s not a case where, from one title to the next, we expect to have a totally different audience, so that’s why I don’t think there’s any risk that we might get complacent about the game. I mean looking at reviews and Metacritic and stuff like that, that’s why we come to all these events and do media events and interact so much with our users. To give you an example, our Facebook page has over 20 million fans.
This is [for] the mobile version, right?
It’s the FIFA franchise. They will always come and say what they’re happy about, what they’re not happy about and things like that. So that’s why we always have to do our best to be at the level that our fans expect us to be each year, and then to also pleasantly surprise them with new things that we come up with each year. I wouldn’t say there’s any risk about that. The themes I would say are getting better and better with each year that they’re working on the title and I don’t remember at least in recent years seeing a title being less of a football experience than the one before. That’s not something that is acceptable for a title like FIFA.
You’ve mentioned how the teams are getting better and better, but the hardware on mobile platforms is also getting better and better every game. How do you meet the challenges of developing for a platform where the goalposts are always moving?
It’s the same deal as it is on consoles at the end of the day because having better devices to have the game on enables us to give our users better experiences. Each time a new device comes out, we will always be looking into making the most out of what that device is bringing that’s extra, or new, or enhancing. Since we are a football simulator, obviously on top of all those licenses we also need the game to look as real as possible on that very specific platform, so obviously that’s also addressing your question as to how we’re approaching new devices coming up. We’re always looking at the new devices that are coming out and seeing what more we could do on the mobile game to make the most of what the devices bring to the table.