While other 10-million-selling game developers throw their lawsuits out of the pram and cuddle up to new sugar daddies, one of the biggest and most bankable development teams in the world quietly gets on with business in Vancouver.
EA Canada's FIFA series will break the 100 million sales barrier with this year's iteration, FIFA 11, and so far the only casualty has been EA Sports boss Peter Moore's credit card: after the last version clinched a 90 rating on Metacritic, Moore threw the team a massive party.
With Konami regrouping for the impressive-sounding Pro Evolution Soccer 2011, however, this is no time to get sloppy, so initially it's a little surprising to discover that FIFA 11's headline features are Personality+ and Pro Passing - systems that emphasise player attributes a bit more and make passing more realistic. Is that it?
Both features are more dramatic than they sound. "We want to use all of our player attributes more fully," creative director Gary Paterson says of Personality+, before explaining that in FIFA 10 the key stats for each player were shot power, strength, speed and acceleration.
FIFA 11 will expand on that so things like dribbling, passing, work rate, tracking back and defending are more personal. There's a huge difference in how Andrei Arshavin and Sol Campbell dribble, for example, but in the past it might just be recognised visually; now the time it takes between touches, the length of stride, the ability to link multiple turns and other attributes will be recognised in gameplay.
This may be particularly interesting in defence, which Paterson acknowledges has "never been done that well" in FIFA. "We had some feedback last year that it felt like strikers could still defend and tackle as well as defenders. We're working on ways in which we can eliminate that," he explains. For example, a good dribbler will be able to cut inside a low-skilled defender, but a higher-skilled defender with a greater tackle range may not fall for it.
Goalkeepers have been a pretty interchangeable bunch in the past, but Personality+ aims to sort that out with different save styles and agility attributes. Jose Reina may be back in his feet almost instantly after stopping a low shot, for instance, whereas an older keeper might not.
With personality making a bigger difference, the EA Canada art team has been putting greater effort into making players recognisable, not just through facial modelling - although that is an ongoing process - but by implementing new body types and animations.
There are specific body types for the likes of Peter Crouch and Shaun Wright-Phillips, for example, and where the range of available animations and body types hasn't been sufficient to support particular players, artists have hand-crafted exceptions - notably Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi.
The area where Personality+ is likely to make its biggest impact, however, is in the new Pro Passing system, designed to lessen the effect of "ping-pong passing" - a pet hate of FIFA fans which allows players to pass the ball quickly to the halfway line and beyond without giving the other guy a look in.
Ping-pong passing "reduced the emotion and sense of achievement of getting a scoring chance or scoring a goal," according to Paterson, and he believes that Pro Passing, which comes in two parts, is the answer.
The first part is giving the player a power bar for passing, but then also providing feedback. "Say the pass is 20 yards and you only power up enough for 15 yards - it's still going to go to the player, but it's going to be a little softer, which will potentially allow defenders in to intercept it, and will at least slow down the build-up," says Paterson. A HUD element will then show you how much power would have been optimal to maintain momentum so you know better next time.
The second part of Pro Passing is contextual error. Last year EA Canada told us how it calculated the "error" on shots to determine trajectory - considering velocities, ball pressure, right or wrong footedness and other factors - and this year some of that is applied to passing. "We're not going to go too far, but the idea is the difficult first-time passes may have more error on than before," says Paterson.
For example, if you receive the ball at speed, while moving, from a player off to one side and behind you, your player is going to need to have fortune and skill on his side to deal with it without taking a touch. Take a touch, however, and you should be better placed to distribute the ball to the next man.
"You can still build plays, but if you want to do these first-time passes one after another it's going to be difficult," says Paterson, who also notes that there may be a cumulative effect. If the first pass is a bit hard, for example, and the next player tries to play it first time, their pass may have more error, which becomes an issue for the next man, and so on.
"It's a lot more subtle than at first it sounds," says lead producer David Rutter. "When we first put it in it was almost as intimidating as your first go on fully manual controls. We've kind of dialled it back a bit.
"Now when I'm playing the game, it allows maybe one or two maximum ping-pong passes before the ball deteriorates to the point you need to take a touch and control it - which is kind of how real football works." The idea is to make you think a bit more tactically to build play, after which goal-scoring opportunities will feel more significant.
If Personality+ works out though, you should be able to identify your most skilful players more easily during build-up, allowing you to advance by using players who stand the best chance of doing deft things at pace. "A really good passer can calm the ball down," notes Rutter. "If you're going to try to be very ambitious with lumbering players like Sol Campbell you're going to come unstuck."
EA Canada has also been taking notes from forums and Twitter. "I'm kind of always suspicious of people when they stand up in front of a room of people and say, 'hey, we're really listening to our consumers and doing everything they want,'" says Rutter. His proof that they have in this case is a massive database of user requests.
There's been a fair bit of minor and major wish fulfilment, in fact. Handball will be optional, for example. "I've been loath to put it in until we have AI for the players to try to avoid it," Paterson admits.
"They still wanted it in, so I put it in as a toggle. It will default to off but you can turn it to on with no penalties or fully on. I don't anticipate a huge number of people will use it, but these certain people do want it."
Another request - one that has gone into PES 2011 as well, amusingly - is to customise goal nets. In FIFA 11 you'll be able to customise looseness and shape.
"The feedback we're responding to is very diverse, ranging from small things like that to very big things like ping-pong passing," says Paterson. "We've not put the streakers in though," adds Rutter. "We get asked for that a lot." Boycott!
FIFA 11 also includes "hundreds and hundreds" of gameplay tweaks. Corner kicks shouldn't be so boring, apparently, with players (including the goalkeeper) now having to read the ball trajectory rather than effectively knowing in advance.
We're also going to see more idiosyncratic techniques, like swerve passes with the outside of the boot, and backspin and driven lofted through-balls.
When you score an amazing goal, you'll also - finally - be able to save the replay locally, even if you're playing an online match.
Like the excellent 2010 FIFA World Cup game, FIFA 11 also has an answer to goalkeepers rushing out and getting chipped all the time in FIFA 10 - although Paterson approached it in a different way to his colleagues on that game.
"The goalkeeper coming off the line created emotion in the game," he says of FIFA 10 and earlier instalments, "because there was pressure on the attacker. But because the chip was so easy it didn't really force you into a decision. We don't want the keeper to creep out so much, but we've also added more contextual error into the chip system."
You'll need to be more composed and on your good foot to guarantee a chipped finish, in other words. Meanwhile goalkeepers will also be smarter at dealing with loose balls and shots from off to one side of the goal.
Speaking of the World Cup game, however, FIFA 11 hasn't ignored it completely and there are some hand-me-downs. The World Cup penalty system will make the transition, as will the two-button control option. "We're not calling it the Dad Pad," says Rutter, "but those controls are coming across as well."
Sadly the scenario mode - called Story of Qualifying in World Cup - isn't making it across, and the team isn't discussing Manager Mode, Clubs or Be A Pro in any depth yet, but we should learn more about those in the coming weeks - perhaps at E3 but more likely at gamescom in August.
In the meantime though, we can chew over one more prospect - audio customisation. "It's probably not quite as glamorous as the gameplay but I think it's a bit of a sleeper hit," says Rutter.
Basically, if you happen to have music or a crowd chant you've downloaded off the internet and burned to a CD, you can rip it to your console hard drive as normal and then import it into FIFA 11. You can assign music to teams and leagues, so you hear it whenever you access them, and you can assign crowd chants to individual teams.
"If you were really hardcore I guess you could get your mates round and record it," says Rutter - something he does with the journalists assembled in Vancouver to see the game. The results probably won't make it into the shipping version.
The big question is, when it does ship - early October is always a good bet for FIFA, although EA's only saying autumn at the moment - will Peter Moore be throwing another party, or have they come up with a better wager this time?
"We haven't had a discussion about it this year," says Rutter. He expects to do so at Cologne though. He must have a wish list, I venture? "I am a gentleman, and all terms of a bet would remain entirely private between me and the person we might or might not be having a bet with." Yeah, until Moore whacks it on his blog anyway. "I know!" he shouts. "Ever the showman."
FIFA 11 is due out for PS3, Xbox 360 and no doubt every other platform ever invented this autumn.