EA: ‘Female players are one of the most important additions we’ve ever made to FIFA’

Over more than two decades, the FIFA series has made hundreds of additions to its virtual recreation of the beautiful game.

From ‘97’s six-a-side indoor matches and 2001’s one-button ‘hack’ fouling to 2002’s card-collecting system and 10’s Manager Mode, there’s little that EA’s monster sports IP hasn’t embraced.

Or so it would seem.

In reality, there has been one glaring omission from each and every FIFA instalment released to date: female players. Despite the first FIFA Women’s World Cup taking place two years before EA’s 1993 franchise debuted, women have been absent from all 59 FIFA titles. This finally changes with FIFA 16.

"If we want to be the most authentic football game around, women need to be part of that."

Nick Channon, EA

It may be a little late, but adding female teams to FIFA 16 comes at a prime time for football fans. The latest Women’s World Cup kicked off in Canada earlier this month, and has already garnered more press attention than previous women’s tournaments.

The first set of women’s teams to come to the game will be a dozen national sides: Germany, USA, France, Sweden, England, Brazil, Canada, Australia, Spain, China, Italy and Mexico.

We wanted the best players, which is why we went with international teams,” explains senior producer Nick Channon. Fundamentally, we’re going to let the game speak for itself.”

EA announced the addition with a star-studded teaser trailer, featuring a host of famous faces such as Canadian forward Christine Sinclair and England captain Steph Houghton.

The unveiling was plagued by some detractors, who reacted with misogynistic comments and claims that the female teams would result in corners cut elsewhere during development. It even prompted EA COO Peter Moore to lament such ‘vitriol’. However, Channon says this was the minority.

We’re really pleased with the reaction. It’s been fairly overwhelmingly positive. As it should be.”

It’s still early days for women in FIFA, with club teams not currently set to appear in this year’s entry – Channon hints that they will be added in following titles. But getting them in the game at all has been long overdue. Channon states that the delay in diversity was down to the team’s drive to make sure the female players were able to stand on their own two feet – and be more than just male competitors in drag.

We’ve been wanting to do this for quite a while, but we wanted to make sure that they played authentically – we got the body scaling right to make them look authentic and so on,” he details. We wanted to go about it all the right way and, for us as a developer, that was about making sure that when we put women in the game, it was authentic as possible.”

This included bringing in American striker Abby Wambach, the top female international scorer of all time with 170 goals, who lent her motion-captured movements to the new female models in the game. Afterwards, pro players from around the world were face-scanned to ensure their likenesses were on par with their male counterparts. The desire for authenticity does mean that male and female sides can’t face-off against each other, but the women’s sides are otherwise fully integrated into the title.

We as a development team are incredibly happy with how the feature has come together and we wanted to make sure there were multiple ways to play – with kickoff, tournament mode, playing online and so on,” Channon continues. As producer, I couldn’t be happier with how we ended up bringing women to this year’s title.

It’s probably one of the most important additions we’ve ever made to the series – certainly during the last five years. The women’s game has become very popular and the growth of it in the last few years has been huge. If we want to be the most authentic football game around, which we do, women need to be part of that.”

Countless ‘Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus’ books may not always be true when trying to distinguish between the genders.

But for FIFA 16, at least, introducing women to the pitch did require some special treatment, including improved hair animation and a complete rewrite of how body shape affects the physicality of players – male and female alike.

These efforts will be most prominent on PS4 and Xbox One, with the aged power of the older hardware proving a limitation.

Some of the improvements will be coming to PS3 and Xbox 360,” explains Channon. Not all of them; some we just can’t do. We’re not animating the hair on the older consoles and body scaling is not in any way as elaborate as it is on the new machines. The female players still look great on those consoles; we just haven’t been able to do quite the nuances that we have on PS4 and Xbox One.”

Xbox 360 and PS3 have declined in popularity rapidly since the launch of the new machines, while FIFA 16 is not coming to Nintendo or handheld platforms – the first such occurrence for the franchise in 15 years. Could FIFA be due for an early departure from the older home consoles?

I can speak for this year and what we did last year,” responds Channon. We are still investing in innovating in PS3 and Xbox 360, regarding gameplay in particular, but the philosophy will be to focus on the high-end technology and not inhibit ourselves in any way. We will then take whatever we can to make sure that we’re still creating a really cool new experience for PS3 and Xbox 360. We did last year and we will continue to do that this year. The game will feel different and great again, and people will really enjoy it.

As for the decision as to whether we make games for certain consoles, there’s a variety of thought that goes into that, not just technology.”

FIFA 16 is just the start for women in the series, and one that opens up the franchise to a brand new female demographic.

For Channon, the addition is just the next step in bringing the franchise up to the standards of its real-life counterpart.

Fundamentally what we want to do is continue to innovate and make the best football game we can,” he concludes. It sounds clichd, but it’s as simple as that.

To make the most authentic and fun experience that we can, that’s the goal for FIFA; that’s what we’ve lived by for a long time now, and that will continue.”

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