Interview: EA Playfish’s C.J. Prober on Facebook Superstars

EA’s social game developer Playfish gets a lot of traffic love for its FIFA and Madden branded Superstars sports titles developed jointly with EA Sports. Both games rank in the top 10 across all Electronic Arts titles, accounting for roughly 14% of EA’s total monthly and daily active user traffic according to our app tracking service, AppData. Madden is the smaller game with only 1.4 million MAU and just over 170,000 DAU to date, while FIFA is still going strong at 3.5 million MAU and roughly 560,000 DAU.

The newest title in the lineup, World Series Superstars, launched just last week to coincide with the start of the Major League Baseball season and Playfish VP of publishing and product management, C.J. Prober joins us for an interview on the title’s vital link to the real world MLB and how that grow the game’s audience hopefully past Madden’s.

Inside Social Games: First things first. Who’s your favorite pitcher?

C.J. Prober: Brian Wilson, relief pitcher for the SF Giants. [Pictured]

ISG: World Series Superstars differs from other games in the Superstars series in several ways — most notably by adding a highly interactive component to gameplay where players can control the action pitch-by-pitch. How did these features evolve out of previous Superstars games, EA Sports FIFA Superstars and Madden NFL Superstars?

Prober: In FIFA, there’s an animation [for individual soccer games]. In Madden, we wanted to take that to a new level, so we added Game Changers [items] you can play to impact the outcome of the game. So you can return a kickoff for a touchdown or score a field goal or what have you. The feedback from the players was really positive on that, so we’ve taken World Series to a whole new level. We’ve really increased the engagement around playing games in terms of managing [plays]. You also train your team in a much deeper way in MLB than in both FIFA and Madden. It’s kind of a much deeper exercise where you’re like, “Oh, do I want to juice my pitchers or train my outfield?”

ISG: How much of an impact does player interaction have on the outcome of ballgames? For example, if a player chose to manage a game directly instead of using the simulation mode where World Series plays the ballgame for them, could they pull off a win when the simulation would’ve determined that they lost?

Prober: You’re definitely at an advantage if you play the game strategically and manage your players, your training resources, and make smart decisions as you play the game. You can affect the outcome. Will it automatically result in a victory? Not necessarily, but you definitely have an advantage.

ISG: What other lessons did you take from FIFA and Madden to develop World Series?

Prober: I think the deeper training of players was a big on one. The nice thing about these games is that you can evolve them on a weekly basis. So we’ve taken some of the proven social mechanics and adopted those in World Series. For example, when you build out your stadium, it’s kind of an evolution of our collaborative social mechanics. Like if you want to build a dugout, you acquire the dugout and then you’ve got to hire your friends or you can accelerate that process using [the game’s premium currency] Baseball Cash. World Series has some more social hooks in it than we had in FIFA. But again, those games are continuing to evolve, so don’t be surprised to see these things in Madden or FIFA as well.

ISG: World Series launched specifically to coincide with the start of the Major League Baseball season and we know both Madden and FIFA contained some game functionality that depended on real world events within the sport. In what way will the MLB season affect World Series gameplay?