Interview: EA On How UFC 3 Ultimate Team’s Microtransactions Were Misrepresented

UFC is a growing brand in sports these days, building itself around the ferocity of the mixed martial arts combat and the personalities of those fighting and rising up through the ranks. On numerous occasions, the outright favourite has been upset in dramatic fashion, and it’s only served to increase the interesting the sport.

UFC 3 promises to be the most accurate depiction of the sport yet, with EA throwing out an awful lot of the work that went into UFC 2 in order to start from scratch. We recently sat down with Creative Director Brian Hayes to take a look at the game, and while we chatted all the way through the session around the core gameplay and career mode changes – you can catch our preview here – we also went a little off topic. As an EA game, UFC 3 is in the spotlight for its microtransactions and Ultimate Team mode, which have been questioned after the furore surrounding Star Wars Battlefront II and UFC 3’s own beta test.

TSA: The elephant in the room is, as always, the microtransactions, loot crates and how they affect Ultimate Team. From the beta a lot of people had positive reaction to the gameplay, you said, but then there was an equally negative reaction to the inclusion of cards affecting character skill, strength, and so on.

Brian Hayes: Well what was weird and what kicked it off for us was that there was one piece written on the beta that, to a certain extent misrepresented the inclusion of microtransactions and loot boxes in UFC 3.

If you’re familiar with FIFA, NHL or anything, there’s a mode called Ultimate Team which where those elements are confined to and live in a vacuum. The piece that came out kind of represented it like the only option for multiplayer progression or competitiveness were tied to that. I totally understand the sensitivity around that based on other things, but that’s not the way that UFC 3 works, that’s Ultimate Team.

Yeah you can purchase in-game currency and purchase more packs, but what we take into account when we match people up is we look at what your fighter has and what my fighter has and try to make sure those are as equal as possible. In general, people that spend money and have good items are going to be matched up against other people who spend money and have good items or that grind and get good items themselves.

I love personally playing Ultimate Team and not buying items, and if I then beat up somebody with slightly better stuff than me, I love beating them! Nothing’s more rewarding than being an underdog and kicking someone’s butt.

TSA: And you’ve always got the ironclad excuse that he probably bought his way to that stuff. [laughs]

Brian: That was one of the crazy things about the firestorm that kicked off because of that piece that was inaccurate. I saw a comment on the beta where somebody said, “Yeah, UFC 3 Ultimate Team is totally pay to win. I fought this guy and landed all these strikes and didn’t stun him once, but he did this thing and knocked me out!”

But it’s just the beta and nobody can buy anything! He just referenced a fight that he lost in a game where you can’t buy anything as a fact that it’s pay to win!

TSA: It’s like the FIFA meme piechart where if you lose it’s 1% because they were better and 99% BS.

Brian: Yeah. Nobody likes losing and If we can crack the nut of making it fun to lose, then we’ll definitely have the greatest game ever.

TSA: I think just having Ultimate Team in a one on one game such as this is a slightly odd one for me to get my head around. How does it actually fit together with cards and stat boosts and so on?

Brian: Basically, you can have four fighters on your team, but then in our version of Ultimate Team, each fighter is then almost a team unto themselves. They have a certain number of upgradeable slots that you can put moves on, put perks on…

TSA: So if you get something new, it’s a case of what you trade out to make space?

Brian: Yeah, so I might have a grappling oriented fighter and he might have more slots available for grappling, so he’ll be able to do more submissions have better takedowns, or I might have a striking oriented fighter and he’ll be able to add more stuff like a spinning back fist and a Superman punch.

There’s a chemistry system as well that will be taken into account, so just like in FIFA Ultimate Team, if you’re hard up you can you can put a centre midfielder in the striker position and that’s going to affect the team chemistry. The similar thing here is that I might not have as many kick moves in my collection, so I can put a punch move in a leg slot. It’s not going to do much for my fighter chemistry, but I can still do that move in gameplay.

It’s very analogous in the same way to the other Ultimate Team modes in how you can customise things, it’s just that I’m not going into the octagon with eleven players at the same time! I have a team of fighters and each fighter is a customisable, improvable asset to me.

TSA: I guess the important thing is that there are the trade offs when you’re putting one card in, so you then can’t have another.

Brian: The other thing that’s vitally important to the discussion about microtransactions is that Ultimate Team is 100% an opt in mode. The obvious answer is that if you don’t like it, you can play regular ranked championships. The online in Ultimate Team has a division-based Ultimate Championship that basically has you fight qualifying matches to get seeded in a division and then your opponents change depending on if you rank up a division or get relegated. That exact same progression system of division exists in online ranked championships, which is completely outside of Ultimate Team, there’s no microtransactions, there’s no fighter progression, there’s no changing attributes.

There’s still the ability to have highly competitive ranked online play without ever touching Ultimate Team.

TSA: Finally, on a completely different note, I just want to ask you about the guy that was illegally streaming UFC while pretending to play your game?

Brian: Uh, well…

TSA: I think we can agree that it was the wrong thing to do, but also, kind of genius, right?

Brian: Any unauthorised rebroadcast of this event is uh… I thought it was hilarious, just from his commitment to the performance. He had the controller in his hand the whole time.

TSA: Well yeah, but there’s quite a few clips of him online and sometimes it just looks like he’s sleeping! [laughs]

Brian: Well yeah. I thought it was funny, for sure, but by no means does that mean I condone his actions! Obviously that’s on Twitch!

Thanks to Brian for discussing UFC 3 with us. While this interview was all about Ultimate Team and microtransactions, you can catch our single player career preview here.

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