The closed beta didn't provide the clearest picture of UFC 4. In an exclusive interview with Creative Director Brian Hayes, we quizzed the EA SPORTS dev lead on changes to submissions, their decision to scrap Ultimate Team, and more.
This year is going to be a little different for UFC 4 players, with Career Mode getting the bulk of attention. The development team recognized that the majority of the playerbase actually use created characters rather than those on the in-game roster, which led to a huge shift in direction.
Ultimate Team might be the crown jewel of FIFA and Madden, although it just didn't quite work out for UFC. Now, players can't play it anymore and a universal system has been introduced to allow us to collect rewards for our created fighter as time goes by, across all modes.
It's also different in the sense that Tyson Fury and Anthony Joshua have been added to the mix. The popular boxers represent the UK heavyweight scene, but also represent EA's intention to appeal to a much broader audience than the hardcore UFC fans – while staying true to its roots.
UFC 4 closed beta and submissions
The closed beta arrived and left in a short space of time. This was certainly confusing for some. Movement felt a little clunky and the design of some competitors looked off. It was still in beta though, after all.
One of the main concerns from players were with submissions. This is a feature in the game that fans have wanted to see tweaked for a while, in order to make bouts that bit more competitive than they have been. Yet, it didn't feel very balanced in the beta and this is something the team noticed right off the bat.
"I felt the same way when I was playing the beta, and I was like 'oh man, people are choking me out like crazy.' So yeah, that's exactly the kind of gameplay feedback we can see," Hayes said, before agreeing it needed to be tuned for launch.
There was a clear slant in the submission gameplay for the closed beta. By this we mean the attacker seemingly had an advantage. After the closed beta version was released and feedback poured in, it was clear to the devs that even more work was to be done.
Hayes continued: "We actually already, prior to the beta being cut or branched from the main game, we had already tuned back a little bit from where submissions were in the beta. As a result of the beta, we've said yeah we probably need to tune back a little bit more.
"That's not to say that when the game comes out to launch, everybody will be like submissions are perfect, but they should be much better. The OP-ness of submissions for the attacker should be much better, but as with all games these days it's something you continue to monitor and look at post-launch based on player feedback."
Ultimate Team in UFC
Players that have sieved through Brian Hayes' statement on major changes this year will have noticed a huge shift towards customization and Career Mode particularly. There's a lot of information in there.
A large percentage of the player base use Create-A-Fighter characters much more frequently than the fighters included in the roster. Having said that, Ultimate Team on the other hand, doesn't appear to have resonated with the audience in recent times.
It just hasn't worked out in UFC and we can now confirm that there are no plans for it to return in the future.
Hayes said: "The future right now for Ultimate Team, for UFC 4, is that there is no future. There is no Ultimate Team in EA SPORTS UFC 4. We actually did not continue with Ultimate Team as a feature, but what we did instead is try and create a different set of features that still hit some of the motivations that Ultimate Team does.
"Where you can play the game, earn rewards or currency that allows you to get content to make your fighter better, was always a strange part of Ultimate Team for our game. One, it's not a team. It's a fighter," he added. "There were definitely some challenges conceptually with how Ultimate Team fit with a 1v1 fighting game."
Appealing to casuals
One of the things that makes MMA so interesting is that there's a huge casual audience to be tapped into. There are no clubs or teams to root for every year, instead fighters come and go in terms of popularity.
The inclusion of Fury and Joshua is an interesting one, as it follows on from previous moves. The UFC games have seen crossover with the likes of Bruce Lee in the past, proving to be super successful additions. This year, it's all about big name boxers.
When asked about why these two guys were chosen, Hayes said: "At the end of the day, we want to put fighters in the game that more people want to play with as much as possible.
"There's no guarantee that Tyson Fury and Anthony Joshua are going to be them. But they're pretty popular heavyweight boxers and heavyweight boxing is certainly making a resurgence these days so I wouldn't be surprised if they're used quite often as well."
The list of changes is a long one this year for UFC 4, with feedback and stats being considered right across the board.
If there's one thing to learn from our interview with Brian Hayes, it's that the development team are dead-set on appealing to a casual audience. At the same time, they are also tailoring many features to the hardcore fans. That's their goal.
MMA fans will be hoping this creates a best-of-both-worlds scenario for the next game. Many will also be expecting improvements on the closed beta for sure. There are submissions to be tweaked, big fighters to play with, and potentially a much more immersive look at the journey of a fighter in Career Mode right around the corner.
UFC 4 releases on August 14 on Xbox One, PlayStation 4, and PC platforms. There are currently no plans to have the game release on next-gen.