Following a demonstration of EA’s upcoming free-to-play football title, FIFA Online, we sat down with EA Sports’ Adrian Blunt to find out a little more about the franchise’s new direction. Having seen the impressive one-handed mouse control system in action, we were keen to know just how much depth football fans will find in FIFA Online.We’re intrigued by the one handed mouse control system, why did you opt for something so different from previous FIFA PC titles?Adrian Blunt (right): It was accessibility – we want people to be able to come and intuitively pick up the game. Either an existing football gamer or somebody who’s never played a football game before.The two billion football fans that Peter Moore wants to get playing FIFA?
AB: Exactly, the two billion people. We also wanted an intuitive game control and one which would adapt with the player. It’s very simple to pick up  – easily pass, easily shoot – but there’s a lot of depth in there. There are a lot of modifiers and little things that you can do, even just using the mouse. So we spent a lot of time refining that and we’re gonna keep refining it. We’re just getting up to closed beta now – we’ve got four months of closed beta testing where we’re going to be refining the gameplay.Beyond that, it’s going to evolve as the community requests.Will the more advanced moves and skills have to be unlocked?AB: It’s really available from the start. We’re not locking anything out but it’s really … I always think of the game as an onion and we’re peeling away the layers of the onion, getting deeper and deeper. When you first download the game from our website and start it up and go through the simple controls – that’ll get you through a couple of matches and as you start to get better and beat teams, the difficulty will slowly ramp up. If you say that you don’t want to go beyond that difficulty level then the game will adapt to you. If you want to push yourself, then the game will adapt to that.There are lots of controls – we have an in-game control list showing you all the different moves and eventually we will add more advanced tutorials as well to educate you as a player, but the idea is that you evolve with the game.Presumably the notion of accessibility applies to PC hardware as well. What kind of rig will you need to run FIFA online?AB: To give an indication, we are focused on laptops with integrated chip sets for graphics. So, really average PCs. We’ve worked very hard on bringing back different shaders, so the game is much lower spec than FIFA 10. At the same time we have to make sure the gameplay is really fluid and that’s very important.So framerate is a priority?AB: We’ve been working on this game for a long time – we’ve got people that worked successfully who worked on different FIFA products who really understand the framerate and what we can do and what we can’t do. I’m really happy with the result but it’s something that we’re gonna keep on refining. Because it’s an evolving game, it’s not something we’ll be shipping out, then waiting a year, then shipping another version. Every month we’ll be getting something else and part of that will be making it more scaleable.{PAGE TITLE=FIFA Online Interview Page 2}Why did you decide on the free-to-play model for FIFA Online? Were you tempted to introduce a subscription fee?AB: No, one of the big things with free-to-play is that when you’re creating a massive community-based game, you really want to break down barriers.  Accessibility, gameplay and the other one is cost. Really, we want to build a huge community, we want to have lots of fans passionate about this sport coming and playing the game and the free to play model fits very well with that. Someone can play the game and they can play entirely for free without spending any money. But if they want to accelerate the growth of the game, then they have the option of paying.Do you have to take a different approach to marketing for the free-to-play format? This is new ground for EA Sports, no?AB: The marketing of this game is going to be interesting. It’s pushing the company into a different way of working. This is a very new way of creating a football game. That’s going to create its own challenges  – we don’t have a boxed product we can go and stick in games store. Instead we have the power of the internet and the power of our community. Those are very powerful tools and we’re also going to be looking at social networking.Have you looked at the competition in the free-to-play market?AB: Absolutely, we’ve played a lot of games and not just here in Europe, but everywhere and lots of different types of free to play games. There’s a thriving community of these games, some do really well and some don’t do that well. But really, when we’re creating our own game we want to stay true to our own pillars which are authenticity, accessibility and building that community. I think if we get those right and we put that with the gameplay that everyone knows, that’s a good combination.And it must be nice to have the FIFA brand and technology behind you…AB: Just being able to build a game on FIFA 10 gives us so much. It gives us, in terms of gameplay, a great starting point.Can you explain how the microtransactions in the game will work? What sort of items will you be able to buy and what will be the benefit?AB: The game is about growing players. Everything about it is about taking players and making them the best players they can be. Every time I play those players on the pitch, depending on how they do, they will get experience points. They will slowly get better and this will require matches. Another way of doing it would be to buy items through microtransactions that will speed up that process. So every match I play, I get more experience points so that player will get better, quicker. Over five matches, or I buy an item and play over two matches, he’s still the same level as he would be but it’s an accelerator. Basically, I can invest time, or I can invest a small amount of money. The game won’t sell you items to make your team hugely powerful all of a sudden because the minute you do that you get a disparity between the people who are paying and people who are just playing.  So the items that we sell will be accelerators, they’ll be enhancers, but they won’t directly impact gameplay.

Paul Younger
Founder and Editor of PC Invasion. Founder of the world's first gaming cafe and Veteran PC gamer of over 22 years.

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