SAN JOSE--If a fighting game is only as good as its roster of competitors, EA's upcoming mixed martial arts game, EA Sports MMA, just got a bit stronger. Today, EA Sports president Peter Moore confirmed what many fight fans had suspected for a while now: that MMA legend and five-time UFC champion Randy Couture would be in the game as a playable fighter. Accompanied by Couture, Moore made the announcement at a press conference in San Jose, hours before a Strike Force promotion being held Saturday night at the HP Pavilion at San Jose.
Couture is the latest high-profile addition to the EA Sports MMA roster. Late last month, the publisher announced that well-regarded Russian heavyweight Fedor Emelianenko--thought by some fight fans to be the best pound-for-pound fighter in the world--had been signed to the game as well. In addition, the company also announced today that Jay "The Thoroughbred" Hieron from Couture's "Xtreme Couture" training camp would be joining the game's roster.
During the press event, Moore was asked several questions regarding EA's previous meetings with UFC president Dana White--specifically the timeline of said meetings and why the publisher turned down the opportunity to develop and publish a UFC game. White was quoted as saying that the meeting between EA and UFC was as recent as a year and a half ago; while others pin the meeting at closer to three years ago. Moore agreed with the latter timeline and was quick to disavow responsibility for EA's rejection of UFC in the first place.
"Certainly [the meeting] was before my time. I've been with Electronic Arts not quite two years. Next month I'll have been here two years; it had not occurred during my tenure here. The label structure that we organized to make EA Sports a full label--as a stand-alone [profit-and-loss segment of the business]--was not put in place until two years ago.
"I've no doubt that Dana, in particular, came to see EA. It was probably sometime in 2006. The fact stands as this: They signed a deal with THQ in January of 2007; the game, then, has been in development and, of course, shipped in May. That was a game that was developed by Yuke's in Japan. So any meeting [between UFC and EA Sports] that would have happened would have, of course, had to have happened before they signed a deal with a competing publisher. So my assumption is they probably met with somebody [at EA] about three years ago. And at that time, unfortunately, there wasn't a deal that was struck. That's way before my tenure here, way before EA Sports was actually formed as a label. It sounds like [between] Dana's 18 months versus the three-year timeline, the three-year timeline sounds a little bit more familiar. And actually probably that's when it was."
As to White's claim that EA spurned UFC representatives and scoffed at the sport, Moore said he was sure that was "not the case" but reiterated that he was not working for EA Sports at the time and was not present at the meeting itself. "I'd rather focus on the future rather than the past. Whatever my friends at UFC want to purport to be the situation, that really doesn't matter now. Our goal is to create a great game, to actually go alongside what they're doing at UFC and grow the sport itself."
Moore also answered questions regarding reports that Dana White will blackball fighters who sign on to the EA Sports MMA roster, saying that the situation has not cost the game any potential roster additions.
"There's no conflict whatsoever," he said. "We're not seeing any pushback from any outside influences [regarding] people trying to influence fighters not being in the game. If we believe that the quality of fighter is there, that they're obviously going to help us build more authenticity [in the game], we'll certainly sign them up and you'll see in the coming months more and more announcements."
As for the game itself, Moore was vague on details regarding features or controls but did confirm that the game is in its second year of development at EA Tiburon (home to other EA Sports titles like the Madden NFL, NCAA Football, and Tiger Woods PGA Tour series). Moore confirmed the game was on schedule for a 2010 release and said that the overall plan would be to take two years in between MMA releases, alternating years with the publisher's Fight Night boxing series. Asked if the game would feature matches in a cage (a la UFC) and/or in a ring (as in the defunct Pride FC promotion), Moore said that a final determination had not been made.
"If you look at the different circuits around the world...our goal, as I said, is to provide geographic diversity," Moore said. "If there are different rules or different fighting environments, then those will be reflected [in the game]. We're still a ways away from shipping this game so no decision has been made on that."
Couture currently has two fights remaining on a contract signed with UFC but confirmed he is exclusive to EA Sports MMA, a deal that came together during Couture's 13-month absence from the UFC. "Unless the UFC wants to do a licensing deal with EA, I don't see being in a UFC game happening for me. I have an exclusive deal with EA and I'm very excited about that."
Speaking about his involvement in the game, Couture said that he has already had his photos taken (presumably for character modeling and marketing purposes) and will be doing motion-capture work with the development team in October. MMA will actually be the 46-year-old fighter's second appearance in an EA game--last year, Couture played the role of Commander Warren Fuller in EA's Command & Conquer: Red Alert 3.