Shaun Pejic: From playing for Wrexham to Fifa 22 producer

By Chris WathanBBC Sport Wales
Shaun Pejic in action for Wrexham in 2007
Shaun Pejic (R) came through the junior ranks at Wrexham before playing for the senior team and his career ended at Bangor City in 2012
National League play-off semi-final: Wrexham v Grimsby Town
Venue: Racecourse Stadium Date: Saturday, 28 May Kick-off: 12:30 BST
Coverage: Live on BBC Radio Wales FM and digital radio in north Wales, BBC Radio Humberside, BBC Sport online and BBC Radio Cymru. Match report on the BBC Sport website and app.

With red carpet owners, social media sponsorship and a burgeoning celebrity following, Wrexham's recent story all feels a little virtual reality right now.

A non-league side with a growing global fame, it was of no surprise the club were quickly catapulted into the latest edition of the biggest football computer game franchise going.

So when Fifa 22 was launched last year, Wrexham - to paraphrase makers EA Sports' start-up slogan - were in the game.

What is a surprise, however, is to learn that a former Wrexham player is one of creative brains behind the game itself.

"Specifically I'm on the game play team, which I guess is kind of making the game feel fun for people, making it realistic," explains Shaun Pejic, now 39 and based in Vancouver, his base for his role as Live Gameplay Producer at Electronic Arts.

All very much a world away from his previous life before swapping boots for bytes.

A product of Wrexham's youth system, and son of former player turned long-serving physio Mel Pejic, he made more than 200 appearances for the north Wales side.

There were six Wales Under-21s caps along the way, teaming up with the likes of Robert Earnshaw and James Collins, a Football League Trophy win at the Principality Stadium and a promotion, as well as two relegations - including the drop into non-league 14 years ago.

A creditable CV, but not one that really explains the switch in career mode.

'Going from playing to office work was hard graft'

"It is strange," Pejic accepts, speaking before the high-profile announcement that EA will stop producing Fifa-branded titles after next year, but instead focus on their own games under the banner EA Sports FC.

"Like most professional footballers when I was younger, I'd play video games, play football on consoles, and even as a younger kid I was a bit of a nerd and would play a bunch of board games too.

"But going into (game producing) wasn't an ambition or anything like that."

Instead, a move to Vancouver Whitecaps a year after Wrexham's drop out of the Football League produced an example of what happens when opportunity and intrigue meet.

Pejic began dating his now wife, who was working for EA on a different title, and began chatting and connecting to those in the tech industry so prominent in the Canadian city.

"I ended up sat in a room with some of the crew who worked on the Fifa title," he says. "They knew I was a gamer, knew my experience of playing professionally and I had some ideas.

"It was hard graft the first year or two to go from the football world of training once or twice a day to then sitting on your backside in an office all day learning how a game is made, but it was the best decision I ever made."

Pejic doesn't code or programme, nor is he involved in the artistry behind animation, but says he helps form part of the vision of what EA want to build.

"It's calling out some of the issues that aren't authentic to the real game," he says. "It can be something simple like if this isn't the correct way of kicking the ball, but to actually then bring it into the game…

"There is a huge team of very smart people, the most intelligent I've ever known, rocket scientist levels - and I'm going in there from Wrexham, not the smartest football brain, but trying to teach smart people the way football is played, which obviously isn't going to be their area of expertise.

"I guess it fits well."

So much so he describes his playing days not as the pinnacle of his working life, but the groundwork for where he is now and the fulfilment he gets from his work.

Indeed, Pefic says he's past the point of being tempted to head into the studio to record his data on the game, with the latest release now using fully formed matches rather than one or two players in a studio to capture the game's motion.

"It's new tech we've used this year called an Xsens suit," Pejic says. All the cameras are around the pitch and we went to see a couple of teams in Spain play a professional game and we captured all the information and data from that.

"We're using that in the game now, which is really cool, whereas before we were limited to the studio so you lose some of that authentic motion, like naturally colliding with players at full speed."

It doesn't mean there's no room for improvement, with Pejic's current duty to work on feedback from the live title and having to "try and figure out how to make it better for everyone".

But he adds: "There is a fine line of making it realistic and then, on the other side of things, making sure you feel the fun, things like making it super responsive.

"You're always pulling on that line of making it look really good, but also making sure you're able to play and enjoy it. That's the biggest challenge, but the gameplay team is huge with a lot of experience - and whatever we've got going on is working so far."

Pejic ponders whether the future will see greater blurs between live games being watched on television and the video game being played alongside it "when it looks identical, you can't tell the difference, that would be the end goal, we would have completed it then".

And the news of EA's breakaway from the Fifa franchise that came after he spoke has also had fans intrigued of what's next, just as Pejic is intrigued at what's next for Wrexham having admitted he was "crushed" when his club lost their league status.

He laughs but assures "no" when asked if he was tempted to insert a boost for gamers selecting Wrexham in the 'Rest of World' option in the current release, but adds: "It's so cool for me with my history to be able to play with them, to see the badge and the kit."

Similarly, he's proud of the new profile his old club have been afforded since their Hollywood takeover, hoping to bump into Vancouver native Ryan Reynolds to buy him a drink.

He could be toasting success should the Red Dragons navigate their way through the National League play-offs over the next few weeks as Wrexham aim to move onto the next level.

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