"We Have Plans to Make a Fun Game and to do it in a Fair-To-Play Way." Says UFL Publishing Director Alexander Bogomolskiy

UFL Cover

UFL Cover

For many, UFL is a light at the end of the tunnel for the football genre, with players expecting the title to bring a breath of fresh air to the industry.

I had the chance to talk with UFL Publishing Director Alexander Bogomolskiy and ask him about the inspiration behind the title, the most significant challenges the games faced, how the ratings work, what are UFL's future goals, and much more.

So, let's dive into it.

How was the idea of UFL born?

“Well, I know about only the legends, because I only joined the team about a year ago. The guys started to work on UFL seven years ago, so it’s been a long trip.
Speaking of inspiration, our CEO, investors, and pretty much everybody who was at the beginning of the process was a big fan of football. They were such big fans of football that we still have our football team, a football team which consists of our company employees, who play regularly as an amateur team.
Almost eight years ago everybody was playing and watching football, some liked Spanish clubs, some supported British clubs, Italian clubs, etc. The guys were also playing FIFA, at those times it was called FIFA, and they were playing PES. So shortly, they were football enthusiast.
First, the idea was ‘we can do it as well’, a football game with players moving on the field, with the ball recreating real physics of interaction with the ground, players' legs, and so on.
The second inspiration was, to be honest despite all the graphics, the sophistication of physics, and the great job done by the business development departments of both teams with delivering licenses to the game, it kinda felt a little bit outdated in terms of how the game is delivered to players.
The yearly curriculum of a player depended greatly on the timing, so you had to start the game in the autumn, you really had to do that, and if your personal life wouldn't allow it, because you had many business trips, you are moving around, or you have some personal reasons, whatever it is, either you start with everybody else in autumn or you have to catch up, and the later you start playing the harder it is for you to catch up with all the other players.
By the end of the year, it starts again, and you have to start from scratch, it’s not the problem that you have to start from scratch, the problem is that you have to start from scratch in a specific period of the year. Looking at all the business and lifestyle opportunities for people, moving around, changing their employer, people start their education, again, in the autumn, and it’s just uncomfortable.
No games, no genres do this, look at genre leaders, look at the most popular games in any platform, let’s look at Fortnite, League of Legends, Dota, MOBA games, nobody says, ‘Hey you have to start in September and then next September remember to re-buy the game’. That was the second reason.
Once again, love football, feeling this could be recreated by using the latest technology, in our case Unreal engine, and understanding that the approach of the two other games, both FIFA and PES, undertook to deliver the game shows that there is an opportunity, and maybe even a market expectation to move it to a modern approach, similar to other genres.”

How would you describe UFL?

“It’s a video game about football, or if we address our words to the North American audience, about soccer, because not everybody understands what we are about, especially taking into account the existence of the UFL League, an American football league.
So a video game about football, which is free to play, and a game where you can play football with no restrictions, no limitations, where you can create your own club and upgrade it based purely on your skill, experience, and on the time you invest into the game. Time not Money."

What were some of the challenges you encountered while developing UFL?

“ The challenges were numerous, and to be honest our guys were very confident from the beginning, and we are still confident we will overcome any challenges we may face. That’s the beauty of the industry when you always have something to fight against.
Speaking of challenges, the first one was to recreate human locomotion. We have to implement humans, who play on the field, and they need to look exactly like professional footballers, who have unique personalities, and other peculiarities. Not only short or long hair, some are older some younger, some are slender, and some are shorter. People are different, their playing styles are different, their ages are different, and those people you can see from any angle, from above, left, right, behind, in very different kinds of interactions, and that was the first challenge.
We had to recreate players' movements so that they looked authentic as humans, authentic as players, and authentic as a specific person. This is about movements, faces, and bodies, and there are thousands of players in our game, in any game to be honest, they have different faces, and different haircuts, which they change from time to time, and you have to track that.
So recreation of reality, not some sort of picturesque animation, with some sort of artistic metaphor, but a real-life recreation, which was hard, is hard still, and will be hard. As soon as people see very high-quality state-of-the-art graphics, they get used to it, and a couple of months later they say that it looks outdated, that it isn’t as juicy as it used to be, so this was the first challenge.
The second challenge is controls, because this is very much interconnected with the animations because you cannot just pass the ball to some other player, as the player must be at some specific point on the field, the player is moving in some direction and he has to accept this pass, taking into account his position, his movement, and receiving the ball should look natural, it should not look mechanical, it should look natural as if the real player was receiving this ball.
As you understand, there are hundreds of thousands of different ball and player interactions during defense, attacks, speed of the ball, and speed of the run, and people feel this a lot, they can’t say what exactly is wrong, but they can feel something is wrong.
You have to make sure that the feeling of the controls is authentic, and expected, it doesn't mean they should be equal to the ones of other games, but they are expected, and players won’t need to fight constantly against the game and the controls, because this is a very easy way to get rid of players.
This should be very thoroughly analyzed, maintained, and tuned, every single aspect means a lot, everything matters, and everything should be adjusted, you have different variables here, you have the weight of the ball, the players, and different aspects of the player's animations.
To make it play together, similar to music produced by a huge orchestra, is a great challenge, and will always be a great challenge for everyone who is trying to make a video game with 22 players on the field playing against each other, and at the same time, you control only one or two of those players, and all the others should do something clever as if they were real players, and there shouldn’t be a lot of AI interference into the game, because if there is this interference something won’t work.
So, once again, the recreation of football players, and game controls in a way that is perceived by the audience as playable, fun to play, easy to learn, maybe hard to master, but still comfortable to play and comfortable to use, so that the player thinks about tactics, his opponent, upgrading his players.
There are some other challenges, a lot of which are very important, establishing relationships with clubs, and players, but the third most important challenge, which will be with us at all times is latency and latency dependency.
We are making an online game, any online game where you play in real time is latency-dependent. Speaking of football, we have a huge planet, and people who love football live in very different locations, those different locations aren’t all in huge cities with a great internet connection, they are very often in boundary countries, which don’t like each other, geographically they are very close to each other but topologically, speaking of the internet connection, they are very much different from each other.
Speaking of geography, there are two other big problems. Islands are the first problem, many countries are located on islands and it’s very difficult to rely on a local internet connection because it can work very well with a nearby island, but might not work well with the continent, and vice versa, and it’s very unpredictable.
Some countries can have huge islands with big populations, I’m located in Cyprus so I feel the the island issue daily, but we have countries located on big islands, Great Britain, Ireland, Italian islands, Singapore which is virtually an island, Indonesia, Philippines, Japan, that’s an issue you have to address, you have to make sure that your game is playable, comfortable, and that you have the shortest delay possible.”
At the same time, you need to understand that some other people are playing from an internet connection that isn’t as good as yours, or vice versa, and this is not always an issue of internet connection, because you can have a good internet connection at your home but be playing via wifi. You have to not only make the best latency-dependent gameplay possible but also match people from different locations so that they have good internet proximity.
Yes, there is a big problem with islands, but you can find two people on the same island and there will be no issue. But the level of progression in the game can be different, the level of skill can be different, and you have to take all of this into consideration when match-making different players, but at the same time you have to provide fast match-making because if the player presses the play button and it has to wait for minutes to play a game he will say, ‘Nobody plays this game so I won’t either’.
That’s a big challenge and this challenge will always exist because even if we manage to do everything very well, everybody will be happy, it will be the same as with the graphic quality of the game, in a couple of months players will take this has given and they will start asking, ‘ Why do I have to wait for 30 seconds?’, ‘ I feel a slight delay when playing I want to have less visible delay’, and so on.
So this is a walk to the horizon, you have to apply all of your resources to get there, but at the same time, you will understand that you will never get to the horizon like this.”

Is Ronaldo actively involved in the game’s development, and if so, in what ways?

“ He joined the board of directors as part of an investment scheme in autumn, and he is very much involved personally in creating assets, when I say assets I mean all kinds of assets, his image in the game, his image in the game UI, because we have different skins that can be applied to players cards, and he is involved, he approves or disapproves, and provides feedback.
Marketing campaigns, events, and some assets that we produce with or without him, he always provides feedback, directly or indirectly, personally or by his team. He was also involved in some strategy discussions, but of course, we are not talking about a daily basis participation, he is a professional footballer, and his involvement is more on a strategic level.”

How does the player's rating process work, how did you get to the final ratings?

“Nothing is final in an online video game, nothing is final. There should always be a balance between real life, and the game. Of course, you have to apply some real-life material to make sure that some features in the game, rating included, represent real life in a way. However, you have to think of balance, because if you don’t think of balance, if you don’t think of a relatively equal team that will be created by gamers using different players, you might end up in a situation where it’s very uncomfortable to play.
There are dozens of simulators that simulate reality very thoroughly, Microsoft Flight Simulator, and some other military flight simulators. They are very hard to play, very hard to master, and there is very little fun playing them.
So we get a lot of data from different sources, we get data from rating agencies, from well-known industry sites, we have a lot of people inside our company who are very interested in real-life football and everything that is happening there, and finally, we sit together, we tune the data, and after that, we play. Then, we have some changes applied to those ratings again, not based on real-life performance, injuries, transfers, or maybe promotions, but based on the basics of the gameplay.
We started this process in the alpha test, where slightly more than 10k players participated, we have some data but to tune the ratings for a couple of thousands of players, we have 4k players implemented in the game, and we have around 65k players licensed, and to have these in a system it requires time and it requires way more data, data that we started to gather during the Open Beta weekend, but this process is not final.
We do understand that those ratings, and while we are trying to do our best to have those ratings look logical to everybody, there are some visible faults, some of which will be of course fixed, this rating system is not final, it will be changed all the time based on two different aspects, real-life performance, and in-game performance.
Let’s say some player is super successful in real life, he plays really well, he leads all the charts, he gets the Ballon d'Or, Golden Boot, but this player plays for his team, and sometimes for his national team, he is one person, but when you speak of a football video game where everybody can get this football player we can end up with every team having the same players and it will be very boring to play.
So this is the reason why we have to balance different players, and this is the reason why there are a lot of situations when some experienced football supporter says, ‘Hey, this is a defender for my beloved club, how can you show he is inferior to this specific player from the other team?’, we prefer to think that we are trying to make it look like reality, but you know, if you want reality just go to a football match and watch it.
If you speak of a video game, this is a recreation of some alternative universe, and in an alternative universe, there can be some alternative rules.“

In a gaming industry where the pay-to-win method is now the norm, especially when it comes to sports games, why did you decide to go against the norm and create a fair-to-play game?

“There are a couple of reasons, I’m not going into detail about what exactly is done in the game with those mechanics.
The first reason is that the industry is moving forward,30 years ago people were buying cartridges with small games, of 8 bits or 16 bits, and you had to wait for the release of those video games in your region, and if you weren’t living in Japan or the USA you might have a need to wait for years to before you were able to even get the opportunity to buy the game.
20 years ago you had to buy a CD, 10 years ago a lot of games were digitally distributed, with pre-orders, paid add-on mechanics, and so on. Currently, or even if we speak of five years ago, everything changed, the majority of games, especially mobile games, are free.
You know, 15 years ago, when World of Warcraft appeared, it was absolutely understandable, even industry standard, that you play an online video game as a subscription game. If you introduce an online video game on a subscription basis logic today, well, you will probably be welcomed in an unfriendly manner by your target audience.
So this is a matter of timing. Nowadays, it is absolutely okay and is expected of every game producer, developer, and publisher, to provide a game as a service for free. If you do or don’t pay microtransactions inside the game, you shouldn't have to buy the game all the time, or every year. Basically, you are buying an update for an amount of money, accompanied by microtransactions, it looks outdated. When it’s connected with the very nice idea that you have to start everything from scratch, this is, again, very much outdated.
So the first reason to introduce this fair-to-play approach was simply because it is an industry standard nowadays. Look at Fortnite, great game, isn’t it fair to play? Do you have any pay-to-win mechanics there? So this is fair-to-play, you just play the game and you enjoy it, you have plenty of options to pay, but you don’t have to do that, there is no obligation, no subscription, and we think this is the proper way to work.
Look at any other modern game as a service video game and, the absolute majority of them, especially modern, recently released titles, provide it as free with some additional services that you are not forced to pay. You have the option to do so, mostly for cosmetics, maybe to speed up the progress, but not for having access to the game.
You have already paid, you have purchased the platform you play in, and you are spending your time, you do much already, you have downloaded the game, and you have chosen the game in between thousands of other titles if we speak of mobile games, or hundreds if we are talking about console games, so thank you very much already, why should you pay for it? That was the first reason, because, once again, this is just a modern approach, we did not invent it.
Secondly, it’s very nice to watch a sport where both people are playing in fair conditions, and the winner is not determined. The idea is that not everything should be equalized, because people are different, and their conditions are different. If we speak of horse racing or car racing, they have different factors except for the player, but still, every rulebook provides fair conditions to every participant, and if those conditions are considered to be unequal it’s not fun to watch, not fun to play.
Just look at car racing, look at the successful car racing and the unsuccessful. Look at what is happening with, let’s say, Le Mans. Le Mans has a huge history to boast, and at the same time, they are rewriting their rulebook every five or seven years because very soon somebody gets used to it and keeps winning all the time and that’s not very interesting to watch. When we speak of video games, if you don’t introduce an equal level of opportunities for every participant it isn’t fun to play, it isn’t fun to watch, and you won’t have many players.
The better the game is, the game in terms of the process players are involved in, the better it is the higher the lifetime. The longer the lifetime, the more stable, consistent, and reliable, the business as a product becomes. This is also an investment in the longevity and business success of the product.
The fourth reason is obvious, why shouldn’t it be there? We want to introduce fair-to-play, who wants to introduce not fair-to-play? That's natural, if you make a game it should be fair to play. “

Are there any plans to introduce offline single-player modes such as manager career, or will UFL continue to be online-focused only?

“We are doing a lot of experiments, all the time. In previous years, we were very much concentrated on delivering the game itself, but now we have way more time, and way more resources to run experiments with. Not only in terms of the UI or something like that but changing the way how players relate to the in-game economy, relate to different kinds of internal virtual currencies, different features, and yes, of course, we work on online and offline game modes.
Some of them might be successful and might be released, others will be considered unsuccessful and won’t be released. We can state it, currently, we are working on some game modes, meaning we have developers, game designers, UI engineers, and so on, who work on additional game modes.
Will they be successful, and will we be able to release those game modes this year, or within a certain time period, we aren’t sure, because we haven’t finalized this process, but we definitely have this intention. So we are working on that, we have the intention of releasing some additional game modes soon, and some of those modes in development are offline, but you know, as soon as we succeed in their development we will release them, talk about them, show them, we have very open communication, which means we have nothing to hide, and as soon as we have some information we will reveal it.
People were asking us to pls make this game happen on other platforms, we will, but it will take time. So the next platform will be PC, it doesn't mean that it will happen tomorrow, but we will concentrate our efforts on this game to be released on PC as well.
The fans are also asking to let it appear on post-generation consoles, mobile, or somewhere else. Well, let’s move step by step, as soon as we have something you can try on we will, of course, tell it, show it, and we will not be keeping secrets."

In addition to players, will there be any licensed clubs, leagues, and stadiums available in the game at or post-launch?

“There are already, we have more than six licensed stadiums in the game, they are modeled and in the game client. The majority of them aren’t available for purchase during the beta weekend because we didn't want to distract players from some other features, and not to announce something before it is really announced.
Kits, balls, stadiums, we have our ambassadors, starting with Cristiano Ronaldo, Kevin De Bruyne, Zinchenko, and many others we are discussing signing, we just didn’t show everything. In a case where a club or a partner says, ‘Hey guys, we want you to show our stadium, or kit in the Beta because we want to play with them’, no problem, we did that with Hashtag United, we had their stadium in the game during the Beta, and we had it with the hugely famous and successful AS Monaco, who also had its stadium and kit in the game.
So we are moving in this direction, we have some club collaborations announced, some unannounced, and we are seeking more partnerships, from different countries, Portugal included, we have not only ideas, but we already have Portugal stadiums modeled and implemented in the game, they are there already.”

What features can players expect to see in UFL at launch that weren't in the Beta?

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“ This new Beta will have a lot of changes in terms of meta gameplay, and I will not disclose them right now because we want to reserve something to surprise the players, we are really looking forward to the players' opinions. But we will have significant changes in meta gameplay, from how the players can grind to progress, to how players can move from one to another division, in terms of the ladder, and matchmaking.
We are also planning to implement many changes, virtually any update, with the skin mechanics. We noticed that this is a mechanic that players liked very much, but a lot of players were complaining about some different aspects, many stated that something wasn’t clear, or that it wasn’t as attractive as we used to think, so there should be changes. No changes to the existing system, but some additional layers added, including how to transform the skins you have already obtained, different types of tickets, and bonuses.
So there should be many changes to the game meta, we have plans to implement additional game modes, and we also have plans to announce from the release date some big co-brand events, I don’t want to disclose it yet but should be there, with huge bonuses both in-game, and maybe something outside of the game.
Of course, we will have a lot of licenses, and they will appear in the game, but they aren’t there yet during the Beta, in terms of cosmetic elements, customization elements, of course, stadiums, this will appear in the game.
You know, the release of the game is not very far away. In this case, this is not a road to the horizon, this is very close, and I think your readers definitely understand that nobody will show the game if it’s years before release. This is a matter of months, and I think those months are very few.”

Based on Beta feedback, what improvements are the developers now working on/prioritizing?

“Network connectivity, we are working a lot on network connectivity, especially applied to some regions in South America, and the East Asia Pacific region. There is much to be done there and it will be done already by Beta.
We also noticed that we need to put more effort into some specific aspects, either released or unreleased aspects of our meta, and we are working on that. We think that more clarity should be added to the ratings of all the players, and even to the whole concept of the progress, and how to upgrade your club.
A lot of players want different things, some want to play with the top players from the headlines, and others want to play with the players of their local football club, which isn't always Barcelona or Real, often it’s a very small club from a second, or third division, but still, they have supports. So we have to address all of those expectations.
All of that was important, but all the efforts of the development team are and will be directed to controls, locomotion, and AI on the field. So players will move more naturally than they used to in the 1 Beta, players will be more responsive, and players and teams will be more logical, and more clever than they used to be, and these are our main focus."

What are your hopes and ambitions for UFL moving forward? It's very early days, but is the long-term plan to rival EA FC and FIFA, for example?

“You know, rivalry, the market is so huge that there is a place for additional tournaments, and for many leagues. This is not a situation where there can only exist one or two players, I’m pretty sure that the market is huge, the number of players is huge as well, and the more products that exist in this genre, the better it is for the market, for every player, and for competition.
So I think our goal is to present ourselves and to establish ourselves in the market. This is not the story where we are trying to steal somebody's position on the market, this is not the story that we are aiming for some certain sector in the market, and there is only one player that can exist there.
No, we intend to come to an already existing playground and to make this playground more fun, and more diverse, and to provide our future players a chance to play a different game.
We expect that, first, our future players will have previous experience playing some other games in this genre, and second, I’m pretty sure that a lot of them will still play different games, and this is okay, why not? Why shouldn’t you play different games?
Today you are playing chess, tomorrow you are playing cards, the day after you are playing football in the street, and these are all games, why shouldn't this be the same thing with games on your console? Play different games, it’s fun to experience different things.
So that is our goal, arrive at the existing playground, make it funnier, even bigger if we can, but this isn’t a story of rivalry, we are a small company, from a small European island, we aren’t a huge corporation, we don’t have plans to conquest the world, or the industry. We have plans to make a fun game, to play this fun game with our players, and to do it in a fair-to-play way."

What makes the UFL project so unique, especially compared to the other football games in the market?

“Sometimes you don’t play the game because it’s unique, you play it because it’s fun to do so, especially if you don’t want a player to play only your game without having experienced any other.
Why would players play our game? Because it’s free, it doesn’t require a specific investment to start playing, and it doesn't require you to start playing at a specific date on the calendar. So it’s okay to start this game at any date of the year, you can easily take a pause and not play for a couple of months, then return and still feel okay. We would like to provide sort of a leisure activity for players, which they have the option to participate in, but aren’t forced to do so.
If you have a nice book at home, it doesn’t matter when you start reading it, or when you don’t read it, you are entitled to the opportunity to use it whenever you want. This is a unique opportunity. You have a unique, up-to-date, state-of-the-art game, which is supported, developed, and has all the recent features, and it doesn’t matter what date it is today on the calendar, it doesn’t matter if you have paid for it, this is just an activity which is always happy to see you.
This is unique, this doesn't happen in the football genre, but this happens in different genres, in shooters, and some action games, so why not football? “

How challenging is it to compete against video game juggernauts such as EA Sports, and potentially also 2K soon, and is this also something that motivates you and the team to deliver an even better game?

“It’s challenging, of course, because you understand that whatever you do, it will be compared with an already established, big, and successful product. People will always either praise or blame you, and think of your product based on their previous experience, and this previous experience has nothing to do with you.
So people have some previous experience, maybe five, or 10 years ago, but they still try to treat you as if you have some connections with their previous experiences. That’s challenging, of course, but you know, everybody plays nice, we didn’t notice any unfriendly moves from anybody on the market, everybody is open, everybody is behaving nicely.
So we are just making our first steps in the market, we think that is a huge challenge for a small team of enthusiasts, but at the same time, it seems this is a friendly environment, a friendly market of professionals, and it really looks like a playground.
You know, it’s such fun to work here, everybody is nice and helpful, and when I say everybody I mean everyone inside the company, outside the company, influencers, people who watch videos and comment under them, people from other companies, platforms, everybody is very nice, so this is a very nice industry to work with."

What are the next steps for UFL in the near future?

“In August, we will have the second Beta weekend. We will present changes for the last two months of development, between the first and second beta weekend, and then I think we will be able to think about the next big step.
Very soon, we will be able to, I hope, I’m not sure, but I hope to start pre-orders and maybe even to announce the release date."

If you needed to convince someone to play UFL, what would you say to them?

“It’s fun to play, come join us, it’s the very beginning of a maybe very long journey, and we are giving some great in-game stuff for those who join the game from the very beginning, such as unique emblems, kits, uniforms, which will distinguish early players. It’s fun to play, so why not?"

I hope this interview was insightful and that you enjoyed reading it.

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