It's inevitable that women will appear as playable athletes in a football title, the executive producer of the FIFA video game series told a petition organiser. But it's far too late for that to happen in FIFA 13, and he couldn't commit to any future year in which it might for his series.
Still, whatever is done needs to be done right, David Rutter told Fernanda Schabarum, a 29-year-old gamer living in South Florida. It can't be a token tack-on feature, and certainly not a downloadable game or extension that sends a message that women play a second-class sport.
"He said it's going to happen at some point, and he hopes EA is the one to do it, and do it right," Schabarum told Kotaku. In an interview, Rutter said the same thing to Kotaku, too.
The two sides met because earlier this month Schabarum initiated a petition calling on EA Sports to put women, specifically women's national teams, in its FIFA series, which holds licenses to depict dozens of high profile professional and national teams throughout the world. Though most Internet petitions, especially on the subject of video games, get little traction or response from the publishers they address, this one caught EA Sports' attention.
That said, it asks the kind of question Rutter says he faces annually. "I remember vividly being in Cologne (for Gamescom 2011) and being approached by journalist after journalist about the Women's World Cup [happening that year]
"The same answer then is the same answer now," Rutter said. "Every year, a vast quantity of suggestions for inclusion comes into our studio. We have to whittle it down to what we can make in one year. It's a case of prioritizing what needs to be done, and then we do our best to knock it out of the park in whatever we're doing. But [women in the game] is always something considered in some shape or form, and it's not to say it won't ever happen."
Schabarum, a psychologist who grew up as a passionate football fan in her native Brazil, seemed to accept Rutter's answer. "They've got to wait for the right time," she said. "It's a marketing matter. We talked about the Mia Hamm game [Mia Hamm 64 Soccer for the Nintendo 64] and he agreed, yes, that was a disaster. That was a good example of the wrong timing and the wrong approach."
Rutter himself worked on that title in 2000, in fact, for the studio Silicon Dreams. The game reviewed poorly and the fact it was essentially a reskinned version of Michael Owen's WLS 2000 for North America made it appear more of cynical marketing tactic than a game really interested in women's sports.
Rutter, who pointed out he has two daughters who enjoy playing football, said he's sensitive to the subject and does not want to bring women's football into FIFA as some kind of a tack-on mode or a side game that would open the title to criticism it was exploiting interest in women's football rather than serving it.
"We want to make the best fundamental simulation of football," Rutter said. "When it gets to a point where we're considering a feature's inclusion because it benefits everyone, then it becomes a priority. The key thing about delivering on it, is that it has to be of very good quality, very high value, rather than just an acknowledgment of women in football."
It's true that Rutter's NHL colleagues in the EA Canada studio last year allowed for players to create a woman in its Be A Pro singleplayer mode, which FIFA also has. But that option doesn't exist in FIFA and won't in FIFA 13 either. "There's no reason you couldn't capture your face, if you're a woman, and put it in [with the Photo GameFace feature] but there isn't a female [body] to put it on," Rutter acknowledged, "for no other reason than it just hasn't been done."
The difference is that, in professional hockey, there is some precedent, although extraordinary, for female members on otherwise all-male teams, though one has never played in a regulation NHL game. Schabarum, for her part, wouldn't want to see a created female playing with her favourite Brazilian side, Grêmio of Porto Alegre. "That does not make a lot of sense to me," she said. "It'd be weird. [Women's football] a very different sport to watch and for sure it's a very different sport to play in a video game," even though the rules are the same, she said.
Schabarum would prefer to see a lineup of national women's teams — the United States, Canada, Japan, her native Brazil, but realises that there are licensing costs involved. She isn't asking for women's versus men's teams in open competition in FIFA for the same reason she doesn't think female players on male club sides is a good idea: It strikes at the sense of realism the franchise strives for.
To put a women's football mode on an equal footing with the other modes of the game requires much more thought than simply adding some new player models or a one-off tournament feature for the Women's World Cup. How can you reasonably present a career mode if the starring player is a woman or the principal team is a women's national team? Is the player trying to make her national team, as opposed to playing professionally? Is the goal to qualify in a world competition rather than play a league schedule? These are good questions, Rutter said, but ones his team is not yet prepared to answer.
"There's a difference here, in that she has taken the time to push this through," Rutter said. "It was nice to speak to someone who not only believed deeply in what she did, but who also has played the game."
For her part, Schabarum still thinks including women's team is feasible under the current state of the art, but accepts the explanation that it needs to be done right.
"I'm a psychologist, so I know that when children play a game, it's not just that their favourite player or team is scoring a goal or winning, they feel like they are too," she said. "Girls should have the same right. David's daughters should have that right too."