Ultimate Team has been a popular and addictive mode since its introduction into the FIFA franchise and boasts some impressive stats. At peak, 3.4 million games were played and 17 million players were transferred daily. We sat down with Ultimate Team Producer Marcel Kuhn to see how the game will change this year and what future announcements we could hear about.
CLICK: The locomotive engine is one of the big new features of FIFA 14 and looks set to change how people approach games. How will this affect Ultimate Team, which is typically quicker than the regular game?
Marcel Kuhn (MK): We’ll take the whole gameplay package, and all the things that they do on their side is transferred straight into FUT. So with them adding to the fidelity and the amount of animations and the amount of logic that happens, we actually benefit from that because Ultimate Team is now going to be even better. Because often, in the past, because it’s a little bit faster and a little more twitch-based you were kind of encouraged to take crazy shots at crazy times and that’s where the holes in the animation actually come out more than any other situation. So with them increasing that part, it’s going to benefit FUT just beautifully.
CLICK: And will it slow down the pace of the game?
MK: That’s not really…again, we benefit from what they’re doing because it makes everything more fluid. The speed of the game comes more from what chemistry does to the attributes. And there you saw that we’re adding chemistry styles. So, they can actually affect more if you want to play a faster game or more slowed down game.
CLICK: Can you talk more about the Chemistry Styles, how many there are and how they influence gameplay?
MK: We’re about 75% done with development so we haven’t finalised the names or how many yet. But what I can tell you is there’s going to be a variety. There’s going to be ones for goalkeepers, defenders, midfielders and attackers. We’re thinking about 20 right now, so that you have some either/or decisions to make in the game, each of those aspects of positions on the pitch. What they’re going to do is, each of them is going to affect a specific amount of attributes. Either there’s going to be a small bonus to all of them, a medium bonus to some or a large bonus to just very few of them. What you can do as a gamer: you can find consumables in packs or on the transfer market where you can actually change a chemistry style that a player has. So that’s your opportunity to customise the squad and play the way you want to play.
CLICK: Are you a little nervous that people will gravitate towards pace?
MK: We absolutely are; there’s a couple of things how we can combat that. The first thing being the rarity system within FUT. Obviously the one that has a high impact on anything can be very powerful, be that heading or pace or any other. So they’re going to be much rarer than the other ones, so they’re going to be hard to find and they’re going to be more expensive on the transfer market. And the second thing, actually by introducing those chemistry styles it will allow you to combat that. So, if you’re afraid going into a game, “Eh, I’ve a little bit of a slow squad, especially in the midfield,” then you can actually use chemistry styles to enhance your player’s pace and use them on your slower players. So your choice is pretty much, “Do I enhance further the strength that a player already has or do I balance out his strength across the board a little bit more?” So that’s a cool decision to make I think and will allow you to combat pacers or pace abusers, however you want to call them.
CLICK: Will players come with a base chemistry style from packs or if people resell them?
MK: So, from packs players are going to come out most likely, it’s not 100% final, with a basic chemistry style that’s going to have a very small impact on all the attributes. So it’s kind of an all-rounder style that’s neither here-nor-there. So, from there you have freedom to choose what you want to do with them. And then on the transfer market, it’s going to be whatever chemistry style the last owner of the item had. So if you want to sell Messi as a Finisher chemistry style, he’ll show up as a Finisher when he’s transferred.
CLICK: As the name implies, it’s all about building your Ultimate Team; for some this is a bronze or silver team, so is the Seasons mode going to be switched up to allow them to use these teams or do players have to build their gold star-studded squad from the start?
MK: For Seasons we keep the same principle. It’s always “Bring your best squad.” So that’s how we felt from the beginning is the best way to play Seasons. We have seen some requests of making bronze seasons, silver seasons, gold seasons, but we just feel it muddles the whole thing down a little bit. So we have tweaked the matchmaking criteria so it takes stuff more into account, but we can never guarantee a perfect match because matchmaking is not black and white, it’s all grey.
CLICK: Recently we’ve seen Blizzard and Valve embrace the idea of in-game trading or selling. Is there any plans to legitimise the coin-selling industry that has cropped up on eBay and other sites?
MK: Somebody, somewhere might have those plans. We don’t. We actually are trying to crack down as much as possible on it. So we’re working with eBay to take down those coin sellers. And we also work really hard on improving our security because they have found certain ways to get to those coins and we have to stop them. It’s kind of a tough mission because these guys spend 24/7 on figuring out how to do that and they’re not bound by the legal system, they can do whatever they want. While we, in terms of how we try to catch these guys, we’re kind of a little bit in between a rock and a hard place. We have to save our game essentially against these guys, but we also have to confine to the laws. So we have a couple of really smart guys that are cracking down hard on whatever they can, so I think it’s going to slow down quite drastically with the release of next year’s game.
CLICK: We don’t quite know time frames yet, but will it be possible to start your team on one system, a current-gen system, and then continue your progress on the next-gen, assuming you stay with the same manufacturer?
MK: Yeah, something I really would love to talk to you about because there’s probably some good stuff coming fairly soon. We just have to figure out the details around it, so keep your ears and eyes peeled. There might be something very soon that will answer that question.
CLICK: As you’ve pointed out, Ultimate Team has been incredibly popular throughout its history. Will the servers be ready for the pressure this year?
MK: We’re in existence four years and I think, with the exception of one year, it was actually fairly smooth during its launch. So we got much better anticipating the amount of people that want to play based on the predictions of how many people are going to get FIFA and, now we have four years of data, how many people were FUT users. So I’m pretty confident that we’re going to be ready and that there’s not going to be a major outage at the beginning. So everything seems to be in place [knocks on table for good luck], that the launch is going to go smoothly.
CLICK: You mentioned in your presentation that you suffered a 5-1 loss recently; there’s some that wouldn’t stick this out. How do you strike a balance to allow people to forfeit so that they don’t et hammered without tainting the other person’s experience?
MK: That’s a really interesting topic that we have discussed all year long. There’s a camp within EA that wants to allow forfeiting; we are not part of that camp because what we fear is that people will try to amek you forfeit as quickly as possible. If you meet a player that’s not as good as you, sometimes it brings out the best in people – they play a bit nice and let them score a goal and it feels much better than, you go online, the guy’s going to try to score five goals as quickly as possible and then pass the ball around the back…like you’ve a really horrible experience, just to force you to quit. So there’s this kind of approach that we think through things and how they will affect peoples’ behaviour. As of right now, I don’t think that we feel it would be a good option to give to users.
CLICK: With the difference in gameplay style and speed, there have been people asking for manual filters or specific cups. Have you tried to encourage that especially as manual might have become more popular thanks to the introduction of skill games?
MK: So within FUT we haven’t gotten to that yet. It’s one of those things that’s on our to-do list. But with all the other changes we did this year, this didn’t bubble up high enough. It’s definitely something we want to do at some point, it’s not in 14 as of right now.
CLICK: Last year saw the introduction of the Football Club catalogue. Have players taken advantage of the boosts that were there for Ultimate Team and will it be returning this year?
MK: I’m not sure that there’s anything about the EA Sports FC catalogue that we can or can’t say yet…..But one thing that I can tell you is that we monitored all the products that they offer in the catalogue and the FUT coins boost were ones that a lot of people grabbed. As they’re so successful, there’s no reason why we wouldn’t put them out again. So…that should be there again.
CLICK: So with the Protect the Ball, the Locomotive engine, the various shooting styles, there are a lot of new ways that gamers can play. What players or types of players do you think will be most popular this year?
MK: I don’t know, to be honest, because only the masses when they start playing will figure that one out. What I’ve noticed so far, and I don’t have enough time to play FIFA right now because I’m on these tours, but what I’ve noticed so far is that the teams that are very strong physically play very well with the new Protect the Ball feature. So you can actually slow down the game considerably and play a ball possession game. But that’s just a very subjective observation on my part; there’s probably going to be different ways to play FIFA again, like there was last year. But overall, it feels like you can play…if you have physically strong teams that know how to pass the ball well, you can slow down the pace of the game considerably and keep possession easier than you could in past FIFAs. But again, the game is not even final tuning, it’s 75% done as we mentioned before, so there is a lot of things that could still change before we launch.