We talk to EA producer and creative director Matt Prior about how the team worked to make FIFA 19 much more accessible to every type of players and why The Journey is coming to an end this year
FIFA 19's producer and executive director Matt Prior

FIFA 19's producer and executive director Matt Prior

Every year brings a wealth of new features to EA’s FIFA franchise. This year though, it looks like the development teams at EA Vancouver and EA Bucharest have gone the extra mile to make it both very accessible to newcomers and more complex for veteran players.

“That’s one of the interesting things about FIFA – it has such a broad spectrum in the way people engage with it,” producer and executive director Matt Prior tells MCV. “There’s no optimum way people engage, it’s very different from casual players all the way up to esports competitive games where it’s essentially a job at this point. So when we’re looking at the features we need to make sure we cater as much as we can to everyone. You can’t just focus on the core or just on the casuals. Our philosophy always is: how can we do the maximum amount of features that have the maximum impact across our millions and millions of users?”

And one feature that is sure to please everyone is the addition of the UEFA Champions League as EA has nabbed the rights from Konami’s PES, which has had them for the past ten years. Getting the rights for the biggest European club championship is obviously a big deal for EA and the team made sure they make it the star of FIFA 19.

“It was one of our most requested community features so we’re delighted to be able to deliver that to our community,” Prior says. “When we brought the Champions League back it was important that we did so across the entire game because FIFA is quite unique in that there’s a lot of different users. You have Career Mode users, you have Kick-Off users, you have Journey users, you have people who play all three, and obviously Ultimate Team is another big one. So it was important to deliver a Champions League experience across the game. So obviously there’s a standalone mode, if you want to play just the Champions League. It is integrated into Career Mode so Career Mode is now the most authentic it’s ever been. Obviously with Champions League comes the Supercup and the Europa Cup, which shouldn’t be forgotten. And then we’ve got The Journey. It’s the last year of Alex Hunter’s story and the Champions League forms the main narrative arc about his quest for the ultimate victory in club football. So it’s a huge part of that.”

EA’s decision to put an end to its story mode, The Journey, is a surprising one, as it’s proven incredibly popular, adding depth and narrative to the franchise. But it was actually always meant to be like this, Prior explains.

The Journey's main character Alex Hunter

The Journey's main character Alex Hunter

“We always envisioned it as three year journey,” he says. “Three years made sense as we utilised each year to showcase a different level of football. So Year One was his breakout, Year Two was about finding his feet on the world stage and then the third one we always hoped would be competing for the ultimate prize in club football: the Champions League. Now at the time we didn’t know we would get the Champion’s League so thankfully the world aligned and everything fell into place. So in terms of why we saw it as a trilogy, it just kind of made sense because once he’s won…” Prior pauses and smiles, immediately correcting himself: “If he wins – it’s entirely up to the user – if he wins the Champions League, where do we take him from there? I think there will be people who will be like: ‘Oh, don’t end it’ but I think it’s good to keep people wanting more before they get tired of the character.”

EA Sports’ supervising producer for Switch Andrei Lăzărescu

EA Sports’ supervising producer for Switch Andrei Lăzărescu

This last chapter in Alex Hunter’s story will not be available on Switch, like last year, EA Sports’ supervising producer for Switch Andrei Lăzărescu tells us: “[The story mode is not on Switch] because FIFA is powered by Frostbite and the whole Switch game is built on a custom engine. Because we wanted it to cater to the platform and not be downsized or downgraded, that wasn’t possible. It’s in the back of our head, but not this year.”

With The Journey ending this year, it would not be surprising then to have a new story mode built from the ground up for all platforms, including Switch, next year.

THE SOCIAL NETWORK

But one of the most interesting things coming to FIFA this year is a wide range of features aiming at improving its accessibility and making it a much more appealing proposition for new players.

“We’ve added one button control,” Prior starts explaining. “So FIFA is obviously a very complex game, that’s part of its appeal. There’s a lot of functionality. For someone who’s maybe not into gaming as much it can be a bit of an overwhelming experience. But now with one button control the AI will decide what’s the optimum thing to do in that situation, whether it’s pass or shoot. So that really opens it up. And I’ve been playing with my seven year-old son and he’s loving it. That’s an element that really opened the doors of FIFA in terms of making it accessible to everyone.”

But that’s not all, with Kick-Off in particular getting a wealth of new features.

“It’s a big year for Kick-Off, we’ve injected a little bit of fun into it – there’s now what we call house rules. So you can play games where there’s no rules. So no fouls, no offsides, essentially the referee is not there.”

You can also add rules such as only headers and volleys count for goals, or only goals scored from long range, say from outside the box, will count.

“The one that’s been going down a storm is survival mode,” Prior continues. “So basically if you score a goal one of your players is randomly ejected.

“We’ve also added an advantage setting. So one of the historical problems with FIFA is if you had a friend who was way better than you, you couldn’t really have an engaging game. Now with the advantage settings we’ve got the ability to add a score up to 20. So I could give you a 20 goal lead.

“You can also set the AI of your teammates. So I could set you to world class and myself to beginner. So on beginner they won’t make as intelligent decisions.

“Now, with these levers we can create a level playing field for users of any type. It just really opens it up to people who may have never played FIFA.”

FIFA 19 Ronaldo

Kick-Off games can now also be played as themed games in FIFA 19 – for instance as the Champions League final.

“One of the reasons for that is previously Kick-Off games were just a team against a team, there was no presentation around it,” Prior says. “We put a lot of effort into creating this wonderful atmosphere when you get to a cup final. So now we offer the opportunity to play a Kick-Off game as a specific final. So you get all the trappings, all the emotional atmosphere.”

On top of those casual gamer-friendly changes, FIFA 19 will come with a wealth of other improvements aimed at veteran players, ranging from modes being added or being changed to visuals being improved, gameplay mechanics being overhauled, new content being added, with the ultimate goal being to “give users more control on the pitch.”

But talking to Prior, it’s clear that it’s truly FIFA’s improved accessibility that makes it special this year: “One thing we know is FIFA is a very social game and this is part of the reasons we did quite a lot on Kick-Off. It’s played in dorm rooms with eight mates around the house and previously you probably would have someone who couldn’t compete. It was really in essence to open it up to users of all abilities.”

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