FIFA World Cup Brazil calls Vancouver home

EA Sports produces the best-selling sports video game in the world right here in the Lower Mainland.

The FIFA World Cup is a sporting event rivaled by no other. With its spirited fans and global reach, it’s no surprise the soccer tournament is one of the most watched televised events on Earth, with more than 700 million people tuning in for the 2010 final between Spain and the Netherlands.

Perhaps just as well-known globally is its virtual counterpart, Electronic Arts’ FIFA Soccer video game series. Developed right here in the Lower Mainland at EA Sports’s sprawling campus in Burnaby, the series is the best selling sports game worldwide, having sold more than 125 million copies since 1993.

This year’s game, 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil, was released in April in time for the big tournament, which begins June 12.

But if you think hockey-mad Vancouver is an odd place to produce the world’s most popular soccer series, you’d be wrong.

In fact, Vancouver’s wealth of creative talent and technological expertise, in addition to the city’s diverse culture, have made the city one of the secrets to the game’s success, says Matthew Prior, lead producer of 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil at EA Sports. Prior, a self-proclaimed video game and “football” enthusiast, says that both soccer and Vancouver have such a mix of cultures, that the two go together. Developing the game in a multicultural city like Vancouver allows EA to have access to many nationalities as well as cutting edge technology.

EA Sports is far from alone in recognizing Vancouver as a hotbed of talent. Currently, there are 67 gaming development studios operating in BC, says the provincial Ministry of Jobs, Tourism and Skills Training, creating more than 5,000 full time jobs and employing 22,000-plus people across the province.

FIFA World Cup, both the tournament and the video game, is a global enterprise. Since every country in the world is included and can qualify for the World Cup, BC’s multicultural nature is kin to FIFA culture.

Prior says EA Sports’ FIFA World Cup team is made up of more than 25 nationalities, and the game itself is translated into over 15 languages – an unheard of statistic in the gaming world. The eclectic collection of cultures is a key to the success of the game, as well as its authenticity.

Although created with the global audience in mind, there are many pieces of home in the game, too. All the footwork is done in province, using members of the Vancouver Whitecaps FC as models for the motion capture, as well as using the EA’s own on-campus sports field as a model for generic stadiums in the game. And if you play as Team Canada, you’ll be playing in your very own virtual BC Place, modeled after Vancouver’s stadium.

Kantcho Doskov, game play producer for the FIFA series, says the 2014 World Cup game has over a hundred new animations and a feeling unlike anything he has ever seen. For example, one of the game’s lead developers is Brazilian, says Doskov, and he helped to recreate the feeling and atmosphere of a live soccer match in Brazil.

“He was really able to really get that high level of quality and authenticity,” he says.

This year’s version places greater emphasis on emotion and player interaction. What a player does effects how players within the game interact, and they carry those relationships throughout the rest of the tournament. It’s all an attempt to create as close to a real human experience as possible, says Prior.

“It’s beating heart is the fact that we authentically replicate the world’s most popular sport in such a great way that taps the vein of people’s passion through video games,” says Prior.

Although the game was released a few months ago, the actual 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil starts this Thursday with the host Brazilians taking on Croatia. Although Canada isn’t in the tournament this year (the team has only appeared in the men’s contest once, in 1986), Whitecaps’ right back Steven Beitashour will be going to the World Cup to represent Iran.

Next year, the World Cup will be coming to Vancouver, with the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup takes place in Vancouver.

A “biased” Englishmen himself, Prior says that aside from cheering his home team of England on, he’d love to see Brazil win the cup in home territory. Doskov, a native Bulgarian, also hopes to see the Brazil take the cup.

The powerful software at EA Sports headquarters, disagrees, however. The studio recently ran a simulation of the tournament with all 32 teams taking part, with Germany beating the host Brazilians 2-1 in the final.

“One of the things about the World Cup is that it differs from regular football in that everyone can get into it,” says Prior. “Everyone’s from somewhere… Everyone has an allegiance.”

It’s a game that is able to include anybody, no matter how committed you are to watching soccer year round.

Prior says he believes that the FIFA video game series itself has helped make soccer more popular in North America. Although traditionally not a diehard soccer culture, the FIFA World Cup game is more successful here than anywhere else in the world.

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