Oh what an influence a community can have.
When the announcement came back in May of the features that will be included in this year’s release of NHL 16 from EA Sports, one feature that was a glaring omission was the ability to edit current players. Needless to say, fans were none too pleased with that decision.
After fans voiced their issues via social media and on the team’s website, EA Sports decided that enough demand was there to warrant going back and finding a way to include the ability to fully edit players into the game this year. This feature will allow players to edit players’ attributes, equipment and general appearance; players will be able to edit any player in any of the 10 professional leagues included in the game.
“Not being the tech guy, I wouldn’t say overly difficult but it’s easier for me to say that than the guys actually doing the work,” lead producer Sean Ramjagsingh said regarding the work it took to get the feature in the game. “For us, with any feature like that, we hear the fans and what they want.
“They realized how important this was to our fans, and put in the extra time to make it happen. The guys already work very hard and put in extra team, but this was putting in extra time on top of extra time to make it happen just to improve our feature set.”
One of the benefits of working on a game like NHL 16 in a market like Vancouver, Ramjagsingh said, is that everyone who works on the game are fans of the sport and game themselves. If the fan demand for a feature was strong, the developers felt almost the exact same way.
Unfortunately, not everything the team wants in a game, especially one as small as the team behind the NHL series, will make it into a single year’s game. Features and modes that the team wanted in last year, had to be pushed back to this year due to development constraints. It’s something that happens every year with yearly sports franchises.
“We have to make tough decisions throughout the cycle and what we prioritize to work on because we do have a finite amount of time,” Ramjagsingh said. “For the previous generation, it took us seven/eight years worth of effort to get to all the modes that we had.”
He added: “It’s almost, essentially, like trying to do eight years worth of work in one year (with a new console). We had to make the tough decisions, and we pushed as hard as we could right until the very end.”
To help with the game play, presentation and modes that made it into NHL 16, the team at EA Sports Vancouver created a program known as the “Game Changers”. This program consists of 12 community-chosen players that have been given access to the game’s entire feature set since day one.
This group of players has been able to help fine tune game play as well as assist with the shaping of features and modes.
“We’ve talked about what should be put on the left bumper for the new goalie controls we’re putting in,” Ramjagsingh said. “We all have ideas, but we talk to the Game Changers to get their ideas on it as well. They’ve been a valuable asset to get feedback on high and low-end decisions we make throughout development.”
There is a 24-7 Skype Chat available to all members of the program in order for them to bounce ideas off the development team whenever something comes to mind. With that type of input from the community, it’s clear that EA Sports is looking to get everything the fans want in the NHL series.
Will it take eight years to get everything in the game like it did with generation three, or will it be a much quicker process this time around? Time will tell.
Michael is a former Managing Editor for The Hockey Writers. He’s covered the Buffalo Sabres, along with the NHL in general, for various outlets since 2009. His work has been featured on outlets such as Yahoo, Sports Illustrated and Fox Sports.