Like winter in Westeros, FIFA 16 is coming.
But rather than bringing with it hordes of the undead it'll arrive bearing the usual FIFA updates: improved graphics, refined gameplay, the latest squads, kits and stadiums and a few new features (this time round: women's teams). And unlike the real, human-run game, it'll do so without a hint of corruption.
We had the chance to play it at a recent preview in Singapore during the Barclays Asia Trophy 2015, then sat down afterwards for a chat with EA Sports' Creative Director Matthew Prior.
You might be surprised at what we found out.
1. There are people worldwide watching football for work
Ever wondered how the points for each player's stats in FIFA are allocated? It involves people. Lots of them.
EA Sports has localised teams of data collection staff all around the world evaluating players during games; this info is then entered into the game’s engine. In short, there are people in every major footballing country who spend most of their lives analysing every single aspect of every single player’s game.
“It's their job to watch games and provide the data," says Prior, "because there are dozens of stats for each player, such as acceleration, tackling, and strength.
"That's a hugely important part of the game, because essentially when users play with Ronaldo or Messi, we want it to actually feel like they’re playing with Ronaldo or Messi. It's a very complex system that goes into that, and it's something we consistently try to improve.”
2. Pro players constantly complain about their stats
Got a problem with how the developers have rated your favourite player? Imagine what it’s like for the players themselves.
“It's interesting, we're going to meet a few of the players from Everton in a bit," says Prior, "and they almost unanimously play our game - which is great. But one of the funny things is, I guarantee when I meet them they'll say ‘Oh, my stats aren't good enough in the game, I'm faster’, or ‘I'm better at shooting’. It's common feedback from the players that they feel that they're underpowered in FIFA, which is interesting to hear.”
3. EA doesn't want to make the game “too real”
There’s a reason FIFA is fun to play even if you don’t play football in real life: EA consciously makes an effort to balance authenticity with entertainment.
“There's a fine line where you take authenticity to a point where the game becomes dull," says Prior, "and you don't want that.
"When people play our game they want to be entertained and have fun. I don't think we're ever in danger of getting rid of that aspect, but it’s a balance we need to keep. Our game is a representation of a real world game, but it's intrinsically not that. It's much smaller, with things like 12-minute halves instead of 45, so that experience fundamentally has to be different."
4. No, the game isn't biased against you
Contrary to popular belief, when you play Career mode, the AI doesn’t make you lose just to spoil your perfect record. Some games may seem unwinnable, but that’s just the net effect of several factors in the game that come into play.
Prior says, “A lot of people think there's some special rubber band logic [where the game’s AI tweaks it to ensure the player doesn’t get too far ahead] or momentum and all that kind of stuff. There isn't, but it's hard to convince people when they lose. They look for an excuse, and the easiest excuse is to blame me, blame the AI, and say it's cheating.
"I can guarantee there isn't any of that in the game. It's something we get accused of every single year, and our gameplay guys get very frustrated about it. There is natural stuff in there, like there are certain players who might get an extra wind after 85 minutes, so there's lots of little elements. But it's not forced, it's just irrespective of the score."
5. Including women’s football was a big deal
There’s no denying that women’s football differs in some respects from the men's game, which is why EA dedicated extensive resources to including it in FIFA 16.
“We've tuned the physics and all the rest of it around the women's game, so you're going to find that and inherently feel a different game," says Prior. "Authenticity is a big part of what we do across every aspect, and I think we've done a good job in making it feel like a different game to the men's.
"Technically, there's a difference in the players’ speed, power, and all that kind of stuff, so I think you'll notice that. It doesn't necessarily mean that it's less fun or entertaining.
"We've been wanting to do this for many years, and now was kind of a perfect time to do it. We've gotten to a level of sophistication with our underlying systems, like the physics engine and all the rest of it, that allowed us to tune it to authentically represent the women's game."