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Next spring, EA Sports PGA Tour will make its return for the first time since 2015, no longer under the Tiger Woods or Rory McIlroy name, but still carrying a lot of the features and courses that made the series so popular. It will continue to be the only golf game with The Masters and Augusta National, a major draw ever since EA inked a deal with Augusta back in 2011, as well as the Old Course at St. Andrews for The Open Championship and more.
It will also bring the LPGA back to golf gaming, as announced on Wednesday prior to The Amundi Evian Championship. The Evian Resort Golf Club where the major is held in Évian-les-Bains, France will be among the LPGA courses featured in the game, and second-ranked star Jin Young Ko is the first confirmed LPGA player that will be in the game. EA Sports PGA Tour will also have Iona Stephen of GolfTV and Sky Sports joining the in-game commentary team, becoming the first female voice in the game’s history, as well as serving on the game’s creative council.
All of this is a big step towards making the game more inclusive of women in golf, something that both Stephen and Jenny Martin, a Senior Producer at EA, spoke with Uproxx about as being something very important for the game.
“I’m a woman who’s been a gaming industry for over 30 years, and I’ve always pushed for inclusion,” Martin said. “It’s important to me personally, and we will make better games because of it. The difference between now and, 10 or 20 years ago is that I’m at company and a studio that share that commitment, and we are all committed to making the game a welcoming community for all of our players and a diverse experience. So. you know. it’s adding breadth and depth to our franchise and we’re really excited to have this content.”
“I mean visibility is everything,” Stephen said. “And I think we’ve seen that in tennis, for example, putting men and women on the same visible platform has enabled the female tennis to grow. It’s not just about what happens in the tournament side of golf like this week at the Evian, it’s about what happens in other peripheral aspects of the game. That includes fashion, marketing, and gaming. And this is where the visibility has to be for both men and women’s golf, and I think the impact that this game could have, and the fact that it’s putting men and women on an equal pedestal, could be massive for the growth of golf, overall, and participation. And I really hope it does inspire men to take their daughters to play golf, mothers to take their daughters to play golf, and women who perhaps like to game might think hey there’s a lady in golf and the LPGA will hopefully pick up some more fans as a result of the game.”
It’s not just LPGA players that will be available in the game, but Martin said the Create-A-Player engine has been overhauled so people can make female characters in the game as well. All of this is part of an effort to make the game more welcoming, as she said, and also is just smart business to reach an audience that is so often underserved in both the worlds of gaming and golf.
The keyword for EA Sports in creating this game has been authenticity, from making sure every detail is right on the courses put into the game to making the PGA and LPGA Tour players look and swing as realistically as possible. Making sure that authenticity extended to the LPGA players and courses was really important to making the impact they hope they can have in terms of growing the game and presenting women’s golf on the same platform as the men’s game, and that starts with using the same scanning process on the players and the same course engine for the courses.
“We are announcing Jin Young Ko in the game, she was the 2019 winner of the Evian, and she’s world ranked number two right now. We have had this really incredible process of scanning these golfers and really we’re getting realism that is just stunning at this point,” Martin said. “It’s really still early and we’re still working on who’s exactly going to be in the game, but we’re really excited about the way that the visual fidelity of these players is coming together.”
That effort at bringing an authentic experience is something Stephen wants to extend to commentary as well. Both as a commentator in the game and also being on the creative council, Stephen wants to bring EA Sports PGA Tour something that can be extremely difficult to produce in sports video games: a realistic and natural broadcast commentary presentation. So often sports games, especially ones you play a lot, see the commentary get not just repetitive but become a point of frustration. For Stephen, she thinks part of that is not thinking about the structure of a broadcast, something she’s tried to bring to this game by pointing out simply how a broadcast works and when each person on commentary would or, sometimes more importantly, wouldn’t be talking.
“We’ve had conversations around the life of a commentator, what actually goes on for a commentator on the course, what are the things that we actually say, and how does a broadcast work,” Stephen said. “Like, realistically, what a lot of people don’t realize is commentary is an art in many ways. I’m learning from the best in the business. I’m still relatively new to the world of commentary, but in the in the few years I’ve done it, I’ve been learning the scale and discipline that is required. And I think it creates an authenticity in the game because there’s times when an on course commentator would talk and there’s times when they absolutely wouldn’t. And I’m really impressed that EA has gone to the length of working with myself and other talented people from the world of golf to actually get that authentic experience, and that will come across in the game, I hope and people who are playing will hopefully think, ‘Wow, this feels like I’m really playing in a golf tournament.’”
Time will tell if this game can make those hopeful strides from a commentary point of view, because the reality of bringing pre-recorded commentary to a game means, inevitably, things get repeated. But bringing a variety of voices and understanding their roles better would certainly be a great starting point, and it seems EA is at least thinking about that seriously and trying to improve in that area, which is good news.
As the game gets closer to its release next year, we’ll know more about full course lists, players from the PGA and LPGA, and all the game mode details to come — Martin did say the popular three-button swing was returning. The goal in all of it is, as Martin says, to deliver the most realistic experience possible, with courses like Pebble Beach, Augusta National, and St. Andrews serving as a top draw for the game as golfers and gamers can experience courses they’ve dreamt of playing. Adding the LPGA to that is important for making the game more all-encompassing to women in golf, while also providing an opportunity for gamers to get more invested in the women’s golf game by building connections to these players and events by playing them.