Sometimes, Interviewing Developers About FIFA is a Horrible Experience for Everyone

By Ian Dransfield on at

I've been doing these FIFA events for years now; six or seven of them, to be a bit more precise. Two or three (maybe four) a year, every year, like clockwork. It's not a bad setup: you go to Guildford, to EA's UK headquarters, sign in and fake a smile for your visitor's badge, and shuffle into a hallway to see a presentation that introduces you to what EA Sports wants you to focus on this year.

After that, you play. You play for hours, or minutes if you have somewhere else to be. I always tend to play for hours, because I like FIFA. It's a good game to play alongside someone, to shout in their face as you win, lose or attempt to cripple their star striker. As game previews go, it's pretty good. Sometimes you don't even get to see the game running. At least with FIFA you always get to play it.

And then you do an interview. And that's where it falls to pieces, because nobody can ever say anything.

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This time I was sat in a small room with Nick Channon, senior producer on FIFA 16. It was about 3pm. He'd been in there almost all day. It wasn't stuffy, but it wasn't very comfortable, and for a man with jetlag being asked the same questions over and again about a game that – by EA's own admission –only has iterative updates to the mechanics this year, it's probably even less comfortable.

Remember when I tried to create some teams in FIFA 15 for the UK General Election? Then I found you couldn't, so used PES instead? I asked Channon about bringing back the ability to make new teams. "We've not got anything specifically new that we're adding for this year, no," he told me.

Right, OK.

What about in the real world, where FIFA is in the grips of a scandal? At the time of speaking, Sepp Blatter hadn't announced his plans to step down, so things were a bit up in the air. I wondered aloud if it was something the team had a contingency plan in place for, should the organisation of FIFA go tits-up.

"It's something that we're monitoring, but beyond that I'm just here to talk about video games. That's all I can do, control the game, and it's all I'm going to do."

I throw in a comment that maybe next year it will just be 'Leo Messi's International Soccer'. The PR laughs, I chortle at my own satire-bomb, but there's no chuckle across the table. Right, OK, moving on.

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Alright, so, the addition of women's teams to FIFA 16 (about bloody time) has been met with obvious, idiotic responses. Lord of EA Sports Peter Moore himself tweeted out in response.
"I think you get those kinds of reaction to everything," Channon tells me, as my shoulders slump, "The world we live in now you get highly positive and highly negative reactions to many things. Any feature we do we'll get polarising views. So for us I think it's something that we understand we're going to get in many different things that we do.

"Ultimately it's not something we necessarily needed to plan for – we believe in the feature, we believe we're doing what we think is right for our game, and that's all we're worried about. Like I said, making the most authentic game requires women be a part of it. It's important to us and that's all we focus on, really."

Even with the blessing of the chief of the company to call out the fools, I get nothing. I am bereft. This is giving me nothing. I begin to feel I am wasting my time, and probably his.
What about the changes in attributes from the men's game to the women's? How does it work? How is it balanced? How is it made to be fair? "Fundamentally there's different attributes that are more pervasive in the women's game, and we were really looking at what's more important, what we had to change and adapt between the two genders to make it feel more authentic."

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What are the expectations for women's football internally? I know for a fact EA has a shit-ton of telemetry on the game, analysing everything we players do, so there has to be some specific goals for the new mode. "We're doing this because we believe we're the most authentic football game in the world, and to be that women have to be a part of it. So that's why we're doing it."

What about this year's approach – no headline feature change to the mechanics of how FIFA plays, just tweaks and optimisations to the existing game? Does that mean we're done now with those marquee features, that there'll be no more 'tactical defending' or other annual gimmicks? "This year we felt that where we are with our tech and our game from last year, this was the best thing to do. That's all we'll focus on, how to make the best game. It doesn't mean there's not a big innovation still to be had at all, but we believe that with where our game was, innovating across the entire pitch was the right thing to do this year, to make the best product we can."

OK then.

So what about the competition? After almost a decade in the wilderness, PES came out last year swinging. It was excellent, and many people (myself included) thought it was the better of the two big football games. Surely that's had an impact on the EA Sports team?

"PES made a great game last year, what I can control is making the best FIFA we can this year. That's what we've been doing a while, that's what we'll continue to do."

I’m sorry, Nick Channon, I think. I’m sorry we’re both having to do this. We both know I won’t get anything of interest to tell readers about. As ever, the best way to learn about a new FIFA is to play it.