The real Manchester City striker Sergio Agüero (left) and as he appears in EA Sports’ FIFA15 game (right) What does it take to be the creative director of one of the world’s most popular computer games? We spoke to Matt Prior of EA Sports’ FIFA series
Creative Review: Creative director of EA Sports’ FIFA games would sound like a dream job to many – can you tell us how long you have been doing this, how you got into it and how you define your current role?
Matt Prior: I have been with EA for about 13 years and started at the most grass roots of levels, as a QA [Quality Assurance] tester. I actually started on [car racing game] Need For Speed but my love of football soon got me onto FIFA QA and then into production and then up to the creative director role. That’s one of the great things about EA, it doesn’t really matter how you got here, as long as you can prove you are great at what you do and have a passion for it, which I think is as it should be within the creative industry. Essentially I started in the trenches and many other producers did likewise.
I ended up in Vancouver [where the FIFA team is based] purely by chance. Prior to joining EA I was actually an expedition leader running overland trips around the world. One of those trips was driving from London to Beijing and back and on the Syria to Pakistan portion of that trip I met my future wife who happened to be from Vancouver. After that trip I worked in Africa for a year, decided I had had enough of sleeping in a tent and ended up moving to Vancouver and getting married. In a local paper I saw an advert for QA testers so I applied and it all went from there. I actually had no idea at that time FIFA was even made in Canada. My friends often joke that it was fate as my three main passions are football, gaming and travel and they all contributed to me ending up where I am.
I am a lifelong gamer and the loft back at my parents’ house is a museum of gaming. From the early Binatone pong stuff through the ZX Spectrum, Megadrive, PlayStation etc: I had them all so an absolute passion for gaming was also in my DNA and is important to have as making games takes a lot of time and effort.
The role of a creative director is pretty complex and multi-faceted but it is essentially to drive the complete game design for the product and franchise. It’s to come up with the ideas that help keep FIFA at the top of its game. It takes a whole lot of very talented people to actually deliver them but essentially as a creative director you help lead and direct those features and the vision.
Liverpool’s Anfield stadium as it appears in EA Sports’ FIFA 15 game. The design team create the stadia using a mixture of architectural drawings and plans and photography: EA Sports sends photographers to the grounds to capture every last detail in order to build the most accurate models possible
CR: How many people work on the game and what are their roles/skills?
MP: We have around 80 core team members and the roles are wide and varied. From the producers/designers who come up with the ideas to the software engineers who write the code to the artists, renderers and sound engineers who make things look and sound great, there is a vast array of roles within the team. There are also a number of central teams who support the making of the games so all told it’s in the hundreds in terms of people who help contribute to making FIFA.
Games have become so big and complex with the expansion of technology that the level and variety of expertise required has grown with it. Gone are the days when a few guys in their garage could knock out an entire console game between them.
CR: How does the process work for each new release – do you have a long-term plan of new features?
MP: We have a long-term vision but our industry is one of rapid change so we need to be agile enough to adapt. Gamers are playing longer and FIFA has become a 24/7 live service, which is a huge change. It’s also not just about a single console experience now. FIFA is available on a vast array of devices so planning for all of that necessitates a longer vision but an adaptable one at the same time. We certainly have defined visions for specific game modes and map out ideas around specific features and what year they will be introduced.
CR: What were the new features in FIFA 15 that you are most proud of?
MP: It’s not a FIFA 15 specific feature as it’s been around for a while but I would say the feature I am most proud of is Ultimate Team [where players can combine past and present stars] as I came up with the original concept for that many years ago. I know so many people who are completely addicted to that and have been for many years and as a games maker there is no bigger compliment than that.