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EA Sports' Andrew Wilson

How do you evolve the biggest sports franchise in the video game business?

In the opening keynote of the Develop Conference, Andrew Wilson, EA Sports' senior vice president of worldwide development, outlined the company's bold digital strategy for the multi-million selling FIFA franchise. With the launch of FIFA 12 this autumn the company will introduce Football Club, a persistent online service that unites the real world of football with the one created by the franchise. Players will have a consistent online identity that will link every version of FIFA on every platform, feeding their performance back into a central hub.

In this interview, we talk to Wilson about the implications these ideas have for the EA Sports portfolio, FIFA's steady evolution into a persistent online service, and the obstacles that must be overcome to affect that change.

GamesIndustry.biz In your keynote at Develop, you spoke about how quickly the market has changed over the last two or three years. How long have concepts like Football Club and a consistent identity for the user been in place?
Andrew Wilson

Only around the last five years. The reality is that when we started the rewrite of FIFA - and I had the great fortune of leading that team at that time, when we started that rewrite we asked ourselves where we thought we'd be a decade from now. If we could create the perfect football experience, what would that look like? The first stage of that was the idea of eleven players against eleven players online in a real FIFA World Cup. That was the first phase of development, and we got there by FIFA 10, FIFA 11. The very next phase was developing a world that was really more like an MMORPG, that was always with you, where you had a unique ID with persistence and progression across platforms and across years. You had ever-changing dynamic content wrapped up in a rich economy. That's the phase we've been on since then, but EA as a company started to invest in the online infrastructure and architecture that would facilitate that game experience about five years ago.

GamesIndustry.biz You just mentioned the idea of a perfect football game. When you push gameplay towards simulation route there will be a point where it becomes tough to add to the play experience without hurting it. Will this social, persistent layer be the focus of innovation in the future?
Andrew Wilson

I think we have two dreams, and certainly I have two dreams, and I'm busy rallying the teams around them at FIFA and for every product that we make. And we've had some dreams come true that we never thought would, that changing technology has facilitated.

Through technology we'll be able to put full control of the game experience in the hand of the consumer

Andrew Wilson, EA Sports

So when I think what technology is going to provide us with in the future I have two big dreams: one that I think will come true, and one that I think won't. The one that I think will come true is that through technology we'll be able to put full control of the game experience in the hand of the consumer; that they govern what we build, how we build it, what they play and how they play it. I think that's the shift, and we get much better data now than we ever did before, through online connectivity, that allows us to fine-tune the experience to their demands.

The second dream is that what I do in my FIFA game actually affects the real world. I would love it if I played well with Chelsea on Friday night, that they play better on Sunday. I don't think that one happens, but the first one does.

GamesIndustry.biz But in order to realise that goal, don't you need a more stable gameplay experience to build around? Historically, updates in a franchise like FIFA have been gameplay driven, but this is all focused on the service and the features in that extra layer.
Andrew Wilson

I think that's probably true. One of the things that I never underestimate any more is the power of technology, and how we can use that to achieve things that previously were impossible. The things we're doing today on PlayStation 3 we never thought we could do on the PlayStation 2 because we never thought we'd have the processing power to do them. The granularity and the finesse in the game now is largely a result of increased processing power, so when I think about the future and ask, Can we make a better game? I don't know, but technology will certainly help.

Our focus is going to be on how gamers consume the experience we build, but at the same time we'll be using available technology to make it the best gameplay experience possible.

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Matt Martin

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Matt Martin joined GamesIndustry in 2006 and was made editor of the site in 2008. With over ten years experience in journalism, he has written for multiple trade, consumer, contract and business-to-business publications in the games, retail and technology sectors.

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