FIFA Soccer has generated more than US$2.5 billion in sales since its debut in 1993, making it one of the best-selling video-game series developed by Electronic Arts. The success of the franchise is understandable given the worldwide popularity of the sport. What may come as a surprise is that the FIFA Soccer games have all been developed at the EA Canada campus in Burnaby.
David Rutter is the producer of the latest game in the series, FIFA Soccer 10, which will be released on October 20. Born in Stevenage, just north of London, England, he’s been making video games for 14 years and arrived in Vancouver in 2007 to take over management of the FIFA development team. In an interview in his office on the Burnaby campus, Rutter quipped to the Georgia Straight that some people assume he’s a “puppet” who lives in England and is presented as the game’s producer because he has a credible accent. He’s only half joking.
The 60 or so members of FIFA Soccer’s core development team hail from 18 different countries—most of them “hard-core footballing nations”, according to Rutter. The space occupied by the FIFA team is decorated with jerseys and flags, the colours of soccer fans and the teams they support. As for the North Americans who work on the games, Rutter called them “mad, crazy football nuts” and said that some of them are “extremely good football players—very, very good football players”.
According to Rutter, developers who work on the games don’t need to know a lot about soccer. “But there are certain areas of the game where an expertise and knowledge of football becomes inherently important,” he said. “The people who are in those positions tend to be massive football fans.”
Case in point are Gary Paterson, FIFA Soccer 10’s creative director, and Sebastian Enrique, a software engineer and designer, who spoke with the Straight in an EA boardroom. Paterson grew up in Grantown-on-Spey, Scotland, while Enrique was raised in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Both were indoctrinated as soccer fans at a young age by their fathers and grandfathers.
Although soccer is played around the world, Paterson and Enrique stressed that it is not played the same way everywhere. What might be a red-card tackle in Europe is an everyday occurrence on South American pitches. Soccer in South America is less physical, according to Enrique. “It’s more about technique, possession, and dribbling,” he said. On the other hand, Paterson said that Scottish soccer is “a hundred miles an hour. The ball’s always going out of play. It’s stop-and-start the whole time.”
Different cultures have diverse expectations about gameplay, as well as the atmosphere and emotion presented in the game. “We only get that kind of knowledge,” Paterson said, “if we have this broad range of nationalities on the team.”
“We are from different cultures,” Enrique added, “so football is seen in a different way.”
In working on the FIFA Soccer franchise, Paterson and Enrique have ended up in their dream jobs. Paterson gained experience working on a soccer-management game for Codemasters in England before coming to EA Canada. Enrique quit a doctoral program in computer science at Columbia University to join the FIFA development team in Canada.
“I would have gone to Siberia or Antarctica,” Enrique said. “I didn’t mind.”