According to EA Sports, 1.2 million gamers head online to play FIFA 09 every day. And while everyone who thinks they know gaming will talk your ear off on the popularity of Madden, it's FIFA that has become the most popular sports game across the world with over 150 million games played online since last October.
In fact, the FIFA franchise's lifetime sales figures account for a staggering $2.5 billion dollars.
Because of the game's immense popularity and die-hard following, EA Sports is set to release an all-new downloadable game mode called FIFA 09 Ultimate Team on March 19, priced at $9.99 on the PlayStation Network and 800 Microsoft points on Xbox Live Arcade.
"We wanted to be a pioneer in the online space and offer content that's not only unique, but something new for our fans to keep FIFA feeling fresh," says the game's producer, Matt Prior. "We've created a new experience targeted specifically at the online community."
In the new mode, gamers collect a variety of player and strategy cards to build their ultimate team, then play out matches with their fantasy squads using the FIFA 09 engine in order to win even more cards. The more you play, the more cards you earn, giving you a better shot at adding the elite players from across the world to your team. Gamers can then go online and challenge other soccer fans across the world to see who has built the best lineup.
Sound addicting? That's putting it mildly. It takes the must-have elements of card collecting and combines it with the finger-twitching fun that is FIFA to create a new mode that will keep soccer fans busy, at least until FIFA 10 ships to stores.
We sat down with Prior, to find out more about this card-collecting strategy game.
The Mag: How does the game work?
Prior: You get a starter pack of cards, and they obviously won't be the best players out there, but then you go and try to build your team. You take that team into games, and how you play in those games will earn you in-game currency. You then use that currency to buy more packs of cards, eventually building your team up by focusing on team chemistry.
If a gamer is impatient, can they also purchase new packs of cards online using real money?
They can, yes. We realize that there are going to be guys out there who can devote ten hours a day to the game, and there are other people out there who will be lucky if they can cram in a couple of hours. So we wanted to make sure we didn't focus on one or the other. So for the guy who can't afford to spend 10 hours a day playing the game, there is the option to buy the packs from the in-game store using Microsoft points and real-world money for Sony. But what I want to point out is there is no difference between the packs you get in-game and the packs you can purchase. We didn't want to reward people for spending more real-world money as opposed to the in-game money. And the prices are pretty modest, only 20 Microsoft points for a bronze pack, 40 for a silver and 80 for a gold. But because team chemistry plays such a big role in this game, I might open a pack that is the world's best pack for me, but that same pack of players might be the worst for you and how you're building your team.
If I buy a gold pack, am I guaranteed the best guys?
The way it works is the color of the pack indicates the color of the majority of the cards in that pack. So when you buy a gold pack, it will mainly be gold players, but we want to keep that whole Willy-Wonka excitement going, so even in a bronze pack, you might find a gold player, but it's rare. It's very much random, just like when you're buying packs of trading cards, and we wanted to capture that excitement.
Are there any gameplay differences gamers will notice between playing as any random team in FIFA 09 and playing with your ultimate team in this new mode?
The core of the gameplay is the same, but now we've added gameplay cards that can affect everything from the speed of your player to the length of his throw-in. None of it is so powerful that it will break the game. It's not like Mario Strikers where you'll see players run around at 100mph. It's more of just an influence on the game. It becomes a strategy within the game on when to play those cards. And because you start out the game playing with all bronze players, these are guys you've probably never even played as in the game before, so you need to learn how to play with these poor players until you earn some of the superstars.
What are the different match types in the game?
There are league matches and tournament matches. League matches give you a leaderboard where you can compare yourself to all of the other users out there. But the real fun are the tournaments which you can play online or offline. Offline is against the computer where your play against teams like the Galaxy or whatever and those competitions get harder and harder as you progress from a bronze level to a silver level to the gold where you're playing against the best teams in the game. The real battles will be fought online, though, as you put your team up against the best players across the world.
Can you trade cards online?
Absolutely. That's one of the things we really wanted to get in there, this whole trading element. Harking back to the whole premise of the playground days where you have packs of cards and trade with your friends. So, there is a sort of eBay system of putting your cards up for trade where you can set a minimum price, a buy out price and you can set the length of the auction. So you'll get people bidding on your cards, and you can also offer trades of up to four cards. What you'll find is that you'll put a card up for trade, then you'll get all these notifications of offers, so it gets fun because like anything, some of the offers will be a bit crazy, but others will be good, and it's up to you who you want to deal with.
Once you add a guy to your team, is he yours to keep?
No, and this is actually an important strategy element that we wanted to add. You can't just collect a team full of 11 superstars, then kick back and think that you're done. Every player has a contract, and when you play him in a game, that contract reduces by one. If you let it reach zero, he'll disappear. You'll get ample warning before that happens, it's not like he's ripped from under you. But there's an easy way to make sure he doesn't disappear when he's down to one, and that's by sitting him on the bench. Then when you buy new decks of cards, you'll find contract cards in the packs, so you play the contract cards for the players you want to keep, then the next game he's right back in the lineup. It's a balancing act, and what we've been finding is people have an A and a B team. They'll use the B team against the computer to earn more points for cards, but then when they go online, no one ever wants to lose online, so they roll out the A team. It's a very strategic element.
Who is on your ultimate team?
I'm a Manchester City fan, so I'm always on the lookout for Manchester City players, even though the way team chemistry works, they may not be the best fit for my system. Robinho is probably my ultimate player out there, but I still haven't been able to get him yet. His card is out there somewhere, I just need to find the right pack.