Kiyan Prince never got the chance to be a top footballer because he was killed by a young person carrying a knife outside his school gates. But, thanks to Engine and EA Sports, the Queens Park Rangers (QPR) football prodigy is back in the game as a playable character on Fifa 21, 15 years after his life came to a tragic, untimely and unnecessary end.
“It’s been a really long time coming,” admits Billy Faithful, chief creative officer of Engine, on the pro bono campaign that was originally conceived by Engine creative duo, David Dearlove and Richard Nott two years ago. While working on another brief, they came across ‘The Prince of Peace’ – a book written by Prince’s father, who set up a foundation in his son’s name shortly after his death in 2006.
Inspired by the book and by the work of the Kiyan Prince Foundation, the team wanted to do something that would help Mark Prince on his mission to raise awareness about knife violence, and help prevent similar cases by offering support to families that are struggling.
Considering kids don’t always respond to traditional knife crime advertising, they started to figure out how they could talk to them through Kiyan’s powerful story with the medium of gaming, influence networks and sponsorship.
Faithful says that while footballers have always been role models (for better or worse), they were inspired by the rise of footballers such as Marcus Rashford, who have been using their platform as a way of furthering progress in culture and society for marginalized communities. Given Prince is remembered as a ‘gentle giant’ who had a real sense of moral compass, they endeavoured to prove you don’t need to be alive to be a role model.
So they began imagining who Prince might have been, to show a different ending, as while he never got to live out his football career, his legacy still lives on through the work of the foundation.
“We initially thought, what is the highest mark of success for a footballer?” recalls Faithfull. “And we figured it’s getting on Fifa. Footballers actually get quite competitive about it. So we thought, how could we get him on the game as a way of talking about ambition and potential?”
The team contacted EA Sports, but Faithful admits they weren’t confident it would be possible. “They said this is a fantastic idea, but there’s little chance of pulling it off because there are so many things involved. At that point, we were just weeks away from the entry point, where Fifa selects players to include in the next game. It just wasn’t doable at the time in terms of the technology it takes to recreate.”
Plus, the closest EA Sports has ever got to a project like this was its work with Coca-Cola, where the drinks brand unveiled its sponsorship of a fictional and virtual footballer, Alex Hunter.
But Faithfull says this was actually a blessing in disguise, as it gave them more time to get to know Prince’s father. He feels if if they had “rushed the process, it would have been a really complicated and challenging thing. But this gave us time to build the relationship that allowed us to take it that step further”. So they started thinking of other markers of success, building a framework. “As a football player he would be signed to the club, but Prince might also have a high street presence, with sponsors.”
And so beyond Fifa, Faithfull details how QPR has honored Prince with the jersey number 30, which is the age he would have been this year. Match Attax has issued a playing card, while major brands including Adidas and JD Sports are sponsoring him.
It took about a year’s worth of production to create the virtual likeness of what Prince might look like today. “It’s all been evening and weekends, fitting it in around paid projects,” Faithfull shares, detailing how they partnered with Framestore, with input from the Prince family and help from Professor Hassan Ugail at the University of Bradford.
“It’s a very complicated process. Normally, from EA’s perspective, they’d do a meeting with the football player, where they’d use 3D facial and body scans. And they’ve developed their own platform, but we obviously couldn’t do that.”
But Faithfull explains that this time was fortuitous because ”it gave Mark and his family the time to adjust to what it was going to take for them to deal with this emotionally”.
”The campaign is designed to help him make his work even better, but it’s a hard road for that family. They had to hand over a lot of documentary footage.”
Stills of Mark as a young man were then used with ageing-projection software, which helped them create a scientifically-accurate image that was developed into the likeness of Prince seen in the campaign. Framestore brought this to life in film through AI technology, partnering with 3D guys ELC, who created the moving image used in the film.
Debuted yesterday, with the campaign now up and running, there are a number of fundraising touchpoints. Across every post, there is a ‘text to donate’ function, while footballers and organizations involved are helping to deliver on it.