FIFA 23: Lead Gameplay Producer advises players to "experiment" in the most balanced title yet

FIFA 23 is here and users are getting fully stuck into the new game, through Ultimate Team, Career Mode and Pro Clubs.

The main factor for whether a new title will be a success or not comes down to the gameplay, something that we feel has been revolutionised in this latest instalment of the franchise.

We were given the chance to chat with FIFA 23 Lead Gameplay Producer Sam Kovalev, to take a deeper look into the changes made this year, and also try to pick up some helpful tips and insights.

Best New Feature

As the Lead Gameplay Producer on FIFA 23, Sam Kovalev is obviously the guy to go to for all our gameplay questions.

So, what does he think is the most impressive new feature?

"I think that's one of the hardest questions to ask any developer after a year in development because there are so many of them and you can grow very attached to them. It's like your babies!

"I feel like the innovation that the HyperMotion2 brings to the game and the supporting machine learning algorithm with over 6000 animations - that really elevates the true-to-life experience in the game.

"Then the shining star of the HyperMotion2 is the technical dribbling."

We would probably agree with this, as the dribbling this year feels very responsive, but what has changed to make such a big difference?

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DEADLY DRIBBLING - Improvements to Technical Dribbling make it the best we've experienced

"It is different underneath. It is different visually. The system incorporates all the great developments we had internally, with the ability of the active touch system that always calculates the right approach at any given moment.

"It utilises the ML - Flow, which was part of the HyperMotion last year, so it makes sure that we can ensure clean footsteps in between dribble touches, body movement in between, and I feel like the visual variety is something that really stood out for the technical dribbling this year.

"A slight variation in your input in the controller - even using the same kind of movement of running forward and cutting to the left - will mean every time you play you will see slightly different visual animations and movements because it more appropriately reacts to your inputs and what's happening on the pitch.

"This visual variety is something that will keep it fresh, fun and engaging.

"It's something new, it's different, and I always love things that keep evolving in order to respect both the visual fidelity and the authenticity of movements, but at the same time, maintain the level of responsiveness and the quickness that I know our players will be keen about."

Dribbling > Skill Moves

Something we've noticed this year is that you can get past players easier, just using dribbling, as opposed to having to use skill moves.

We wanted to know if that was something intentionally thought about, or if it was just a byproduct of the new dribbling system.

"It wasn't a direct intention, but at the same time, it wasn't a byproduct, in the sense that it was at the core idea of the constant calculation towards the best path, trying to understand and prioritise the player movement and the exit angle at any given moment.

"The system is smart. One of the benefits of the system is that we can update the specific animation on the fly, where we can actually branch out to another type of animation or we can cancel the movement and switch to another one.

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MORE TO IT - Less players are chaining Skill Moves now left stick dribbling has improved

"For example, if you go to get past an opponent to the right, your player will start the movement, you can see the leg starts to do a windup movement towards the ball, and you have enough time to switch paths. Go to the left, cancel the first animation, and we'll start the animation going to the left, which will result in this kind of natural looking like a body faint, almost like a fake shot movement.

"It's not a skill move, it's all with the left stick, so it's a very powerful foundation that will definitely allow players to recreate certain movements that were previously just impossible to do with just a simple left stick dribble."

This insight from Sam gives us the confidence to take on players with just the left stick dribbling, not always having to worry about what skill move to employ.

However, if we were looking for a certain skill move to employ, is there one that is better than the others?

"I think most of them are quite balanced, so it's more that people will try new ones because they feel fresh. The heel-to-ball roll could be a really great one because it looks fresh, it looks nice and it can catch your opponent off guard because they've never seen this before. So I think that will be quite popular just because of that."

Balancing Act

Sam mentioned that the powerful technology has led to a change in gameplay, but does he think there are any new features bought into the game this year that could become overpowered in-game?

"The power and the balance of the game is one of the areas where we are constantly looking into when trying to add new mechanics and new features.

"We had great feedback coming in from the Closed Beta and we have made over 100 changes with some small tuning and polishing updates included in the final game. It shows our dedication to fine-tuning the balance.

"When it comes to something that will be overpowered in the game, I don't think we will have it because the balance is always within our game when it comes to something powerful.

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RISK VS REWARD - The power shot is a cool new addition to the game

"Sometimes, I feel this is more about what will be the features that players will be particularly excited about and they will try them out, because it's fun, because it's new, because it's something fresh.

"The power shot as a mechanic definitely brings something fresh, a high-risk/high-reward mechanic that can result in some of the most amazing long-distance shots ever done.

"I would say that it's realised in a very nice, balanced place inside the game echo system. Not too powerful, not too weak, really good in certain situations.

"This adds an additional tool that is accessible to our players so they can experiment with their playstyle and can find what really works for them.

"I'm definitely looking forward to some of the clips on social media with people using the full potential of the power shots."

Impossible Task

Talking about the power shot, which uses more manual aiming, we feel like the game as a whole has become a lot more reliant on human skill level.

There seems to be less assistance in the shooting and the passing, and also the effectiveness of AI defending has been reduced.

We asked Sam to talk us through some of those changes and what he hoped to achieve with them.

"I think it's always a hard job on our side to find just one type of gameplay that will suit everyone.

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CHANGE THE GAME - Experiment with game settings to suit your style

"We know that it's an impossible task to do because we have millions and millions of players who have different skill levels, different preferences and different expectations from what is a true football game.

"We always try to recreate the authenticity and realism of what's happening in real life when you're on the pitch, but at the same time, you'd like to give full freedom and creativity to all our players."

Speaking on that freedom, Sam advises players to tinker around with the various gameplay settings to customise their game and tailor it to their likeness.

"We don't support just one play style. You can modify all of the settings to see what you enjoy the most and play that one. We want to create a fun environment for our players."

Fair Outcomes

Playing around with gameplay settings is fine in offline modes, but in online spaces like Ultimate Team there is one key factor Sam and the designers consider.

"One of the keywords that is definitely part of our design philosophy is to always guarantee the fair outcomes coming from the play.

"This means we try to minimise the situations where you as a player could feel frustrated and feel like something is unfair.

"Most of the time this means giving the tools for the player to be in full control in specific circumstances; when they're attacking, when defending, when they try to perform difficult types of passes and long through balls.

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PINPOINT PASSING - Not everyone should be able to play a through ball like KDB

"For example, that's why the long though balls are part of the Competitive Master Switch."

For those that don't know, the Competitive Master Switch is a controller setting which is mandatory to use in certain competitive Player v Player game modes, such as FUT Rivals and FUT Champions in Ultimate Team, Online Seasons and Pro Clubs.

Sam continues, "So the Competitive Master Switch, from our side, is more of a recommendation of a certain baseline when we can guarantee the fairness between players."

More Choice

It went against what Sam had told us, but we had to ask, are there certain players that suit the new gameplay better than others?

Obviously, in the past, people like Kylian Mbappe have been very strong due to the reliance on pace, but it feels like there has been a big enough shift that there's going to be a variety of players that are going to be very usable.

"I never know why a certain player would be better than the other. I recommend that players use the ones they will enjoy the most. Me, as a gamer, I always recommend players to play for their favourite team, with their favourite players, because this will be the most fun.

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CHOICES, CHOICES, CHOICES - There is more than just a player's speed to consider this year

"On the gameplay side, we're trying to give benefits so users can have a meaningful choice, for example with AcceleRATE. If your play style is with long runs, or you want to try to play a high line of defence and need players chasing back, you will choose certain players. If you like going through the middle you're looking more at technical dribbling. So it's all dependent on the play style.

"My advice is always to try and experiment with what works for you and which players work for you because each year there are so many innovations and new features in the game."

Gaming Evolution

Throughout our talk, it seemed that Sam was very happy with the balance of the gameplay this year.

We tried to prise out of him any specific formation or tactic that could work especially well in FIFA 23, and although we didn't get the answer we wanted, it is an answer that speaks volumes about the balance the game has struck this year.

"There's no exact recipe. I'm super excited to see how the game will evolve and how people will try different formations and different tactics this year.

"We always support the game during the lifecycle and if there is something out of place or any issues on the balance, we're going to fix them. But I feel like the state of the game is quite solid.

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PACE AND POWER - FIFA 23 has struck a fine balance between the two attributes

"I'm looking forward to seeing how the competitive scene evolves, and I think there are lots of opportunities to see never seen before plays, never seen before tactics. It's just the way how the game evolves.

"Maybe you like the power shots and suddenly you could reimagine the way your formation works to build a place to utilise them more in the game.

"There's no exact recipe like which player to choose, how to start the game, which formation; experiment, try different tactical instructions and find the way that really works for you."

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