Western Canada is hardly renowned as a footballing hotspot. Its soul professional club, the Vancouver Whitecaps, has endured a turbulent history throughout the years and its latest incarnation finished rock-bottom of the 2011 MLS table in its first season back amongst the North American elite.
But you wouldn't have known that from the wall of colour and noise that greeted us as we took our seats at the Whitecaps' BC Place stadium. On this sticky summer evening, the usually barren ground played host to an 18,000 sell-out crowd. The locals came out in force not to see their hometown heroes pluckily try their best, but rather to catch a glimpse of the away team's pink-booted talisman, David Beckham. Like Michael Jordan or Wayne Gretsky, Becks is one of those sporting icons who transcends cultural barriers, and so for one night only soccer became Canada's game.
However, although the crowd were boisterous and eager, their mannerisms exposed the lack of football culture in this area of the world. A bruising centre-back fells nippy Whitecaps playmaker Gershon Koffie, and the home fans are incensed. "Hey, did'ya get his wallet?" one enquires. The appropriate response, as any true footballing fan knows, is to call him a ***ing ***. And rugby tackle the ref.
All in all then, British Columbia makes for an unlikely backdrop for the development of the world's number one football franchise. But travel a few miles west to nearby Burnaby and you'll come across EA Canada's imperious offices, where the FIFA series (along with other company staples The Sims, Skate and NHL, among others) is crafted.
EA Canada's solution to their homeland's lack of native football culture: create your own. And so its 400,000 square foot grounds have been fitted with two basketball courts (one indoor, one outdoor), a street hockey court, volleyball facilities, a gym and - yes! - a full-sized football pitch. The aim was to create a campus vibe for their workers, and that stretches to the interiors, too. The test labs, as an example, resemble high school dormitory rooms.
Even the odd professional footballer turns up here...
The studio's 2000-odd employees have embraced the sporting facilities, all of which are widely used on any given lunch hour (weather permitting, of course). Even the odd professional star deigns to grace EA Canada's pitch. On the day of our visit, a number of Vancouver Whitecaps players - including ex-Watford defender Jay DeMerit - rolled up to provide motion capture performances for FIFA 13.
EA's decision to create their own little footballing bubble in a country more famed for hockey may seem like bringing the mountain to Mohammed, but the series' massive leap in quality over the past decade shows the approach can deliver results. Interestingly, Konami has opened a new London studio in an attempt to capture the 'local football culture'. It will be interesting to see if the series benefits from it.