The next installment of EA Sports's UFC sim is weeks away, at a time when UFC is one of the only sports still on the air. Due to the ongoing COVID-19 global health crisis, UFC is one of the few sports options available, though that isn't really top of mind for UFC 4's Creative Director Brian Hayes.
Whether it causes an influx of new players or not, the focus isn't quite on appealing to a wave of new interest. "It's not necessarily that we're trying to make it that newcomers are going to beat competitive-skilled players or whatever," Hayes says. "Just trying to make elements of the game that are proven to be challenging-based on research, telemetry, critical response, etc.-make them more accessible."
This also means taking elements that were challenging in previous installments, and making them more fluid. The grapple assist, the revamped submission system, and tap-or-hold striking makes things flow a little better in EA Sports UFC 4.
In a recent call with Hayes and Producer Nate McDonald, I had the chance to ask a bit about UFC's standing in the stable of EA's sports games. While UFC itself has seen booming popularity, its game counterparts can seem overshadowed by Madden and FIFA, two sports sim behemoths. Hayes jokes about his "hotter brothers," before going on to talk about who, exactly, their research and data says is playing UFC.
"There definitely are some indicators that the players of EA Sports UFC-which are a large number-definitely have a more, for lack of a better term, a more casual fandom for the sport itself," Hayes says. "So the majority of them are not as passionate about the UFC as, say, Madden fans are passionate about the NFL."
A lot of reasons could account for this. The NFL has the advantage of location-based affinity, and generations of team support being built up. UFC is younger, and it's harder to compare those passions to a city's team. In response, Hayes and his team have been focusing on broader parts of the game: created fighters and customization, updating the controls and accessibility, and the career mode experience, which players do like to engage with more.
He wants to focus on appealing to those who come to UFC 4 for certain things, and that they're presenting things that appeal to them. Hayes draws to mind a fight from last week, where a fighter dislocated their finger. While it was interesting, at the end of the day, it "didn't really impact" his experience as a viewer a great deal.
"The approach is basically, gameplay should remain authentic to an MMA experience," Hayes says. "We're not gonna start throwing fireballs, or having like, Hong Kong action cinema wirework, spinning corkscrew KO animations and stuff like that. The gameplay remains authentic."
EA Sports UFC 4 is currently planned to launch for current-gen consoles on Aug. 14. While the team is exploring opportunities for next-gen options, as of right now, no plans are set in stone, much like another EA Sports franchise: NHL 21. McDonald expanded on this a little more.
"We started building UFC 4, y'know, a little over two years ago, before we really had a lot of visibility with what was going on with Gen 5," McDonald says. "So really, the focus has been on that experience, and what we wanted to build for UFC 4 on Gen 4."
Once the next generation of consoles is out, McDonald says there "will be a lot to think about." For right now though, the focus is making EA Sports UFC 4 the best it can be on the current lineup of systems. That hasn't affected the rollout of post-launch content, though; while he can't confirm any specifics, McDonald says EA has a plan that's intended to be "just as robust as it's been in the past with UFC 3."
EA Sports UFC 4 launches for Xbox One and PlayStation 4 on August 14.