Finally! Women make it to Fifa

By Alan Cooper Time of article published Aug 12, 2015

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You know your business is in trouble on the gender equality front when you’re running flat out just to keep pace with that bastion of women’s emancipation, Fifa. That’s where the video games industry finds itself today.

Take Electronic Arts (EA), the gaming juggernaut behind the wildly successful Fifa video game franchise. The studio announced in May that it would introduce female players to its game, starting with the next edition, Fifa 16.

But while the announcement was carefully timed to drop just before the women’s World Cup finals in Canada in June, Fifa 16 will only be released on September 25, some four months after the most widely broadcast women’s tournament to date.

Yes, I understand how the annual games release cycle works. But why on Earth has it taken this long for EA to admit women to its virtual ranks? Why not in Fifa 14 or 15?

In the real world, the women’s game has grown and flourished over the past decade, seemingly in spite of the efforts of self-proclaimed godfather of female football, Fifa president Sepp Blatter. Who can forget this pearl of feminist wisdom from 2004? “Let women play in more feminine clothes like they do in volleyball. They could, for example, have tighter shorts.”

So what’s been holding up women’s progress – even begrudging – in the gaming World Cup until now?

Apparently, creating realistic women players is really hard.

In an interview with The Guardian, Fifa series vice-president and general manager David Rutter claimed that his team had been working to overcome the technical challenges of including women for a long time.

“It’s been in the pipeline for a few years, and really it was just a case of making sure the game was in a good enough state for it to work properly,” said Rutter. “We needed to have tools and technology in place that could differentiate between men and women. Plus, we had to factor in the time and effort required for travelling around the world to scan faces and heads, record motion capture, etcetera. It’s been on the to-do list for a while.”

Long hair, it seems, poses a particularly tricky challenge.

“A large number of female athletes have long hair, so we’ve had to focus on improving that element too,” Rutter told The Guardian.

I’m sorry, but that’s just bull. If there had been a genuine desire to introduce women to its franchise, EA would have made the effort long ago. But let’s give credit where it’s due. From the pre-release gameplay I’ve seen, it looks like EA’s pulled out all the stops to make the women’s elements of Fifa 16 as absorbing as the men’s.

From all new player movement and likeness, to realistic animations and attributes, the development team has done a great job of authentically recreating 12 of the top-ranked teams in the world, including the US, Germany and France – but alas no Banyana Banyana.

I’m told that capturing all new player movement was done with “meticulous detail” and supported by a motion capture session at EA Canada with four top players from the US women’s national team: Sydney Leroux, Abby Wambach, Alex Morgan, and Megan Rapinoe.

The players’ movements helped to build new locomotion for women in Fifa 16 including new walks, runs, sprints, and horizontal movement.

Soccer Canada also visited EA to provide full-player references captured using the 360º body scanning rig – the references were then used to develop new player models.

And the mobile head scanning unit travelled to several tournaments and events around the world to capture facial features including hairstyles to ensure players look as realistic as possible in Fifa 16.

“Players in the game will look and move in the game like they do on the pitch when representing their country,” EA said.

Sorry, Sepp, that means no tight, volleyball-style shorts. But on the plus side, their hair should look spectacular.

Follow Alan Cooper on Twitter @alanqcooper.

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