We talk to EA Mobile's executive producer about the decision to fully embrace touchscreen gaming.
Many of the general details about FIFA 14 for mobiles will be very familiar to existing fans of the series - a huge number of leagues, teams and players will be included as standard, not to mention the return of the hugely popular Ultimate Team component of the game. This time around though, the iOS and Android versions of FIFA will be embracing touchscreen technology like never before, relegating the traditional, virtual button controls to the settings screen in favour of an elegant tap and swipe system.
After going hands-on with the game at a press event held at EA's UK headquarters in Guildford, Surrey, we spoke to executive producer Dan Teodorescu about these changes, and the increasingly convergent nature of mobile, console and PC gaming.
Is every feature from the console version of FIFA 14 going to make it into the mobile game in one form or another?
The goal that we have is to make each game the best game for the platform. There are some things that don't change, like authenticity. We added more teams this year, so we have more teams, 32 leagues, 600 teams, and thousands of players - that doesn't change.
In terms of features, we have to choose what is best for mobiles, and we also prioritize things that you would like for a personal experience, for an always connected experience. Things like live content.
When you're working out features for the next FIFA, presumably you're working in close proximity with the PC and console teams. Always online is such a big thing now and most people have one of these phones. It used to be a case of doing the best you could on mobile, but things have changed so much now. To what extent does mobile development feed into the rest of the development process?
The first thing we've done is EA Sports Club, which is our football social portal. Whatever you do, you have the same account. If you play on mobile you see what your friends are doing, and everything you do in the game is measured and transformed into experience points. You see that for all your friends, from wherever you play. So, this is the first thing that we've done, the first connection we have with everything - all the other players.
When we decide on what features are going to be included, more and more mobile is considered because of the sheer number of players involved. But the goal is not necessarily to copy the console and PC game. The HD game is the best experience of football you can have. This has to be the best football experience you can have for mobile.
On the subject of making the right game for mobile and the right game for consoles or PC, we're seeing a lot more developers abandoning the idea of trying to shoehorn traditional controls onto a touchscreen, and instead do more to make a virtue of the technology. Has the attempt to force buttons onto touchscreens been a bit of a failed experiment?
I actually think it's a normal step, an evolutuonary step. The smartphones boomed all of a sudden, and as we started to understand the platform what users want, the users started to understand what they wanted too. I think we went through a normal, natural moment. And those one billion [iOS] game sessions were all made with a virtual pad so obviously users liked it, but when we looked at the feedback from a large group of users, they asked why couldn't we do this instead.
When we played it ourselves we felt there could be something else, something different. So I think as the platform evolves, as games on mobile evolve, as we start trying to understand touchscreens, the games that use the touchscreen are going to be the winners of the future.
Do you think then that at some point in the future, the way to play FIFA will be on a mobile - for the most tactile experience?
I still think there are going to be users that are going to want buttons. Right now we are also very interested to see what's happening with [mobile] controllers. It's something we keep an eye on. But the reality of mobile is that reason why it replaces all of your devices. It's always in your pocket, so the most natural way to play is to take your phone out, start it, and then start playing, instead of installing something else. Touch is the most natural and normal way to play. In the future, games that exploit and understand touch and make a good job of it are going to win.
Earlier today, you talked about the sheer number of hours played at the weekend - the spike - that happens when people get on the couch with their tablet or their phone. Do you have any sort of comparative idea of how many more people are choosing to use a mobile or a tablet to play the game, rather than the console version?
I don't have that kind of comparison so can't provide it. What I can see is that when we look at the mobile numbers, we can see a clear spike compared to Friday and Mondays - Saturdays and Sundays just go up.
So it's a legitimate gaming platform for many people - it's just how they choose to do their gaming at the weekend?
Yes, and I think because it's such a personal device, when we're looking there's a whole theory about [usage] patterns. We as gamers and as users have a pattern - picking up a mobile and doing something with it. That explains the growth.
Ultimate Team has become a very popular part of the FIFA experience. Is the complete console version of Ultimate Team going to make it into the mobile edition?
The exact details are going to be revealed later at Gamescom. You can expect most of the mechanics of Ultimate Team to be there and to be updated. Ultimate Team is definitely going to be coming back - it's extremely successful.