FIFA Pitch

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Major sports video games are a bit like a carton of milk. The annual arrival of new players and revolving team rosters label each new game release with a strict "best before" date. And it's a rare treat when game developers choose to change more than just the slightest of details beyond the names on the jerseys. For FIFA 08, EA Sports decided to gut their football/soccer franchise and rebuild it from the ground up in its aim to both outshine their competitors and tailor the game's performance to the high standards of the newest game consoles.

To promote the game's makeover, EA enlisted Wieden + Kennedy, Amsterdam to show the world the new footballing possibilities FIFA 08 could offer. The result is an integrated campaign challenging some of the world's best footballers to match the skills EA makes available to any couchbound Johnny Kickabout. The core of the campaign stems from website and three web films that show ordinary kids challenging the likes of Ronaldinho, Wayne Rooney, Sergio Ramos, Franck Ribery and Miroslav Klose to repeat their in-game feats of soccer skill. Additionally, each online film is embedded with several behind-the-scenes extras showing the pros on-set, goofing off or performing in little one-off skits. The TV spots simply serve as teasers to the web films, directing viewers to the site. The website also offers users a bizarre juggling game that replaces the expected soccer ball with the heads of its soccer stars. A bit morbid perhaps, but addictive fun nonetheless. For the print campaign, each featured pro player poses with his video game counterpart to further depict the game's open challenge to real world players.

We spoke with Wieden + Kennedy, Amsterdam copywriter Mikey Farr (a born and bred Leeds United fan, for the record) about building the campaign, working with the all-star cast of footballing talent and more.

Mikey Farr
Mikey Farr
With so many sports games, each releasing a new one every year, what were your goals for this campaign?
This was a big one because with the release of the PS3 and Xbox 360, games are all going sort of next generation. So the main competitors (for EA) being ISS (International Superstar Soccer) and Pro Evolution, have been ahead for a while. So what EA did with FIFA this year is go back to the drawing board and rewrite the whole game engine, the whole AI, the way everything works so it was a great opportunity to say we've reached the next level (in football gaming). So we really wanted to say is that first, there actually has been a big change in the FIFA game and second, now that there has been this big change why not give it a try? So that's why the tag is "Can You FIFA 08?" to sort of challenge people to have a go at it.

How did the theme of the web films come about?
Well, I'm a massive football gamer and have played FIFA since about '95 or '96. So I went over to Vancouver to have a go at the demos and got my hands on an early stage of the game. As soon as I laid my hands on it I found it really difficult. It brought in skills I'd normally use on the football field, an actual knowledge of the game was required, where and how to position your body, how to move in relation to the football. So in the process of playing the game I realized to be good at it you've got to one, know a lot about football and two, be really, really skillful. From that came the genesis of the idea that if you can master this game you're almost taking football to a new level and challenge the real footballers to match the game instead of the other way around. Normally it's about sports games, and football games in particular, trying to match the real thing but this was an interesting take to flip that on its head and see if the football stars can match the game.

How did you decide which players to feature?
Well, you're going after two audiences, the gamer and the football fan. Football fans are pretty tribal so it was important to acknowledge that. An Italian fan's not particularly going to want to watch Rooney, and a German fan will want to see a German player, and so on. So we just picked the most skillful players from various markets that EA had sponsored.

There was a good mix of expected and unexpected choices. One of the latter being France and Bayern Munich star Franck Ribery.
Yeah that was a good one. He was great. I think it might have been his first ad. It was really refreshing to work with him. That was one thing about working with these football players, they're not actors but we really feel the director got some really good performances out of them. We all really enjoyed it and part of that was making sure they were involved in the whole process and having fun. For Ronaldinho, we literally had a party. It was at a samba club, we had a band playing and midway through the shoot he just grabbed a tambourine, jumped on stage and started singing with the band. When those magical moments happen the good nature of the whole occasion tends to come through in the spot.
We tried to keep the spots true to the players in question. Ronaldinho's was filmed in his home city and we got in touch with his old samba school and teacher. So we went to this run down place and shot it and all the people involved in the samba school were so happy to see him and I think he enjoyed going back home to do it. With Rooney, we did it at a driving range just outside Manchester. For Klose and Ribery, obviously one's French and one's German, so we just went a bit old school and went to Prague. The set designers did a great job on that one.

How were the various scenarios – tailor shop, golfing range and BBQ – chosen?
Well, we tried to make them as normal and everyday as possible. For example, Rooney's a really keen golfer. Though he's got a very weird grip, it's some kind of 16th century grip, very strange. I'd never seen football played on a golf course either, so that was an easy choice. For the tailor, we thought it would be interesting to see a star footballer in a vulnerable position, in this case it's in his shorts getting measured for a suit. So I thought it an interesting juxtaposition of this big star not surrounded by bodyguards or anything, getting challenged by these uppity kids. They were all about the attitude of these kids being so confident in their skills that they would sort of invade these stars' private lives.

What were the footballers like to work with? What was their reaction to the various ideas?
It was interesting, actually. Every single one of them was excited and I think they really enjoyed it. I think it's a pretty popular game as far as the players are concerned. We got some footage of Ribery and Klose playing after the shoot and it got quite competitive. Ribery won, I think.

What were some of the biggest challenges of the job?
The hardest part and what took the most time on-set was getting (the footballers') reactions (to the video game). We didn't want a lot of dialogue or anything that needed to be translated and to do that well you need to have a lot of different reactions and opportunities to give a whole range of expressions. So we ended playing everything from snowboard wipeouts to amazing surfing shots to things off YouTube, just get reactions from them as they watched the screen. But while the reaction shots took a while, when it came to the footballing, they were obviously amazing. As soon as we put a football in their hands, everything changed. We got all the footballing parts in just a few takes. Like with Rooney, striking the ball 20 or 30 yards into that small basket was a feat to see, we were all cheering.
(Another challenge) was while we wanted to shoot the big film spots, we also wanted to cram in as much of the little, magical bits as well. After all, though we're advertising FIFA 08, we also have to entertain people so doing all that extra content was part of that. Getting Ronaldinho to juggle a football while BBQing isn't a challenge in itself but if you can imagine doing it on the middle of a set with cameras and DPs running around and then we grab the star to just quickly do this little extra thing, it could be a bit chaotic but it all went really smoothly.
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