How Big A Corner Does Statto Need?

Like the sport itself, football games are big business. They reside happily across platforms, take on many forms, and hungrily tap into a ravenous market.

A decade ago, if you wanted to envelope yourself in meticulous true-to-life accuracy and realism, then the Championship Manager series was the best (and often the only) option. These days however, the primary consoles have the processing speed and memory capabilities to power a complex back-end for the high-res action they lovingly splash onto our HDTVs. They can not only make their representation of Wayne Rooney look like him, but they can make it feel like him too. Try not to think about the mental image of feeling Wayne Rooney too much.

Seriously, try not to think about it.

Look through a footballer’s profile in FIFA 11 or Pro Evolution Soccer 2011 on the Xbox 360 and you’ll be presented with a longer list of attributes than ever, governing the core skills such as shooting, tackling and passing and including an almost exhaustive range of variants. We’re seemingly getting to the stage where player representations in simulation titles such as FIFA and PES can rival those seen in pure management titles.

Titles like FIFA are providing more and more underlying complexity.

The hardware capabilities of mobile devices are also increasing, and so we’re seeing some impressive complexity and depth under the hood of games that can fit almost as snugly in your pocket as Leo Messi.

Football gamers themselves are a diverse bunch. Some have their friends round each Friday for a tournament on Konami’s Pro Evolution Soccer, others stay up all night obsessing over the relative merits of Swedish full backs in SI Games’ Football Manager series, and if you look around on the bus or train in the morning, odds are you’ll catch a glimpse of someone totally absorbed by the likes of Exient’s X2 Football on their mobile phone.

So, there’s a large, diverse and growing market out there for football titles across a wide range of platforms. Developers continue to be faced with a challenge – what does the intended market actually want from a football game? Will the management game fan accept less statistical realism in exchange for a more advanced 3D match engine? Would PS3 owners rather have a true-to-life “foot-size” attribute for each player, or 30 new celebrations to play with? Does a gamer who just wants to pick up and play a few matches once a day care whether or not West Ham’s reserve full-backs have correctly modelled speed and strength ratings?

Charles Chapman, Technical Director at Exient, the award-winning UK development studio behind a range of successful titles including Nintendo DS versions of EA’s FIFA, Tiger Woods and NFL series, has to make these sorts of decisions on a regular basis. He has kindly taken time out to answer our questions on some related issues:

Do you feel that the public conception of a sports person and their strengths and weaknesses can sometimes differ from the actual truth? For example, your average fan might believe David Beckham to be better at shooting than the statistics actually suggest.

I think yes this is true across the board really. The purpose of video games is to entertain, and be fun. Much of what goes into a sports simulation is tuned to appeal to what people believe the sport is all about rather than a direct simulation. Many sports have rather mundane periods of low drama, and little action – sports games tend to avoid this or even dress it up to be more exciting in some way. Player ratings are a part of this really. For a star player people expect them to be good at pretty much everything, so that follows through to the stats.

The bigger question here really is what do the stats actually mean. What does a 99 rating for shooting mean compared to a 50 rating? This is never laid out for consumers – we just know that 99 is better than 50. For speed, is a 90 rating player twice as fast as a 45 rating player ? Probably not. Ultimately the ratings are there to inform a little, but not be taken too seriously or literally. The game itself is more important.

Do you feel that developers are forced to meet these public conceptions? Is it something that is considered in development? Have there ever been any debates?

For data we’ve created we’ve never been aware of adjusting stats to meet public conceptions. Of course there are some debates between members where, for example a fan of a particular team or player will dispute a rating of a player, but it’s all pretty light hearted. Another example would be that we would not suddenly drop a players stats due to a run of bad form i.e Rooney, Torres, Almunia. The public conceptions about these players recent performances would not affect the fact that they are still world class players.

Relatively, how much time is spent looking at players’ specific strengths and weaknesses? What form does this analysis take? Do you utilise external data sources, e.g. Opta?

To be honest, not that much. Greater focus is placed on getting core details such as position correct. Many ratings in our data are procedurally generated (ie semi-randomly), and we’ve had no complaints from people about them. In a football game there are generally plenty more things to worry about, such as the AI, control methods etc before players start getting worried about specific player stats.

As development cycles are subject to limited time and resources, how often do notions of completely accurate player representations have to take lower priority to ensuring the core gameplay itself functions properly?

Completely accurate player representations are not a priority for us – the game must come first. You can have a great game with incorrect player data, but accurate player data with a game engine which doesn’t cut it will still be a poor game. Of course with resources and time both could be achieved!

Thinking more specifically about football games, when developing for a handheld platform is there naturally less scope for providing a large quantity of player attributes? Does a lack of variance between modelled players then become an issue? Is the balance difficult to strike?

For the handheld titles we’ve worked on we’ve generally been able to have close to the same level of attributes as home console games. The influence of some may be negligible, or even non-existent, though the illusion is more important than the reality. Lack of variance in stats never becomes an issue, going back to the prior question it is more important to provide a game that plays well and is fun then having technically accurate player stats.

Broadly speaking, would you say it’s more important to provide a fun game rather than one that is meticulously accurate? Does it depend on the platform?

For us, a fun game always comes first. Racing simulations are a good comparison here – the most popular racing sims tend to be either unrealistic arcade racers, or racers which create the illusion of being realistic, whilst being not very realistic atall. The original Gran Turismo is a great example of the latter. Also, it’s not platform dependant, whichever console we’re working on the idea of creating an enjoyable game is much more of a priority.

Any players in particular that you’ve enjoyed using in your games, or any players Exient have modelled in any sports title that you’ve been especially proud of?

To be honest, probably not – for us no player has ever received any genuinely special attention. The only time they have done so would be a cheeky rating increment from a team member who is a fan of a particular player. Also, we’ve had fun creating our own versions of ourselves for various games we’ve made!

What non-Exient sports titles have you enjoyed in the past? Are there any that have done a notably good job at accurately modelling real-world players?

Within the team here we’re still fans of FIFA on next-gen. Most of the team made the move from being PES die-hards a couple of years ago to FIFA now. It’ll be interesting how this year’s round shakes things up.

Exient is an award-winning UK development studio and is one of the world’s leading handheld video games developers. It is best known for its work on the award-winning Madden, FIFA, Need for Speed and Tiger series’ for Electronic Arts and the multi-award winning DJ Hero for Activision. They have a dedicated football development team, Team First Touch. You can find out more at







One response to “How Big A Corner Does Statto Need?”

  1. John.B avatar

    Interesting interview. It’s one of the few genres where things like statistic consistency is very important. If I am on the breakaway I need to know the guys I’m passing to have the stats I expect them to have. If I play a through ball to Ronaldo and his speed isn’t accurate then the attack breaks down and my frustration with the core game grows. The interview touched on resources driving whether this accuracy is the case and I find it very interesting that even the massive games (Fifa, FM) are using their community to ensure accuracy of stats and data. After all it’s essentially a group of experts for every team you can think of. SI have been using it for years, you’d think it’d now be common practice but that’s Fifa just getting into using it.

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