After almost 30 years, EA and FIFA are breaking ties to explore different versions of the world's most popular football video game. Who dares wins!
In the summer of 1993, Electronic Arts Inc. in partnership with Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA), football's world governing body, released a video game titled FIFA International Soccer. The game went on to top the charts on Sega Genesis and Super Nintendo. Every year since then has seen an upgraded version of the game hit the stands. Almost three decades on, FIFA is among the most played video games with over 150 million fans across the globe.
But after 28 years of association, the partnership that has generated over ＄20 billion in revenue is set to end. The current deal that was last extended in 2013 will end in December this year and 2023 will see EA Sports release the latest update to the game which will be called EA Sports FC.
What are the implications?
As far as FIFA fans are concerned, there will not be too many changes or at least those with any lasting significance. FIFA, the sporting body, will retain the rights for the title of the game as well as licenses to competitions like the World Cup and the Club World Cup.
But all other licenses and associations with leagues, tournaments, clubs and players will remain with EA which means that except for the name, the rest of the game will be the same. In total, EA currently has partnerships with 19,000+ players, 700+ teams, 100+ stadiums and 30 leagues across the world. Popular game modes like career mode, VOLTA, ultimate team and pro clubs will also continue to exist within EA's upcoming versions.
What is FIFA's plan going forward?
FIFA is looking to partner with new studios to create more football-related video games and spin-offs. The governing body believes that by retaining the name, they will be able to hold on to FIFA's loyal fan base. Gianni Infantino, the President of FIFA, says: "I can assure you that the only authentic, real game that has the FIFA name will be the best one available for gamers and football fans. The constant is the FIFA name, and it will remain forever and remain the best."
Infantino hopes to launch new football video games developed with various third-party studios and publishers, providing more choice for football and gaming fans in the lead-up to the World Cup in Qatar at the end of this year.
Will FIFA be successful in recreating the magic?
While there have been many attempts at building football-themed video games to compete with FIFA, none of them have been overtly successful. The closest competitor was Pro Evolution Soccer (PES) that was developed by Konami Holdings Corp. But the lack of licenses meant they couldn't use player faces or names. Even the names of clubs were changed. For instance, Arsenal was called North London Red on PES while Chelsea was West London Blue.
But despite this, PES briefly managed to hold on to a dedicated fanbase. Despite not having a partnership with FIFA, they had one with UEFA which meant marquee European tournaments like the Champions League and the UEFA Cup were only available on PES. Moreover, their ardent fans believed that the gameplay was a lot more realistic than FIFA's.
But in 2018, UEFA ended its partnership with Konami and resigned from EA, thus spelling the end for Pro Evo Soccer. In fact, its latest version, eFootball 2022, was globally slammed by gaming fans and critics alike.
How is EA visualizing the future of the game?
Talking to BBC, David Jackson, the Vice President of EA Sports, said that the studio believes now is the time to move in a different direction to build a "brand for the future".
"This new independent platform will bring fresh opportunity – to innovate, create and evolve," he continued. And that is why EA decided to break ties with FIFA. While the current game is the most realistic virtual comparison to actual football, gaming fans in the near future will seek more interactive experiences than just playing the game. Watching live matches and creating content will be just as important to them.
FIFA has always remained the undisputed leader of the football video game, but it will have one eye on other games that have gone on to become digital worlds. Fortnite and Roblox are seen as experiences and EA will hope to recreate something similar through EA Sports FC.
Recently, pop sensation Arian Grande became the latest musician to perform a series of concerts inside Fortnite. Millions of gamers watched the virtual gigs, where Grande would soar through the sky with huge angel wings while surrounded by players inside bubbles.
EA would want to rope in similar experiences in its game. A few years ago, another pop sensation Dua Lipa performed before the Champions League final match. With its newfound freedom, EA will hope to do similar things virtually which gamers can watch and experience through the revamped versions of the game.
There is also the matter of sponsorship. Currently, the only marketing within the game is for brands associated or affiliated with FIFA. Once the partnership is over, EA will be free to market any brand they choose to associate with, and this will be another major stream of revenue.
Moreover, with the metaverse becoming the latest buzzword in tech and gaming, EA will be eager to introduce modes within its games where fans can unite and enjoy shared experiences.
The Final Word
FIFA apparently wanted ＄1 billion from EA to extend the contract by another four years, up till the next World Cup in 2026. This was another reason EA pulled out of the partnership as they believe the money, they save will be better utilized in further developing the game and its experiences.
But despite losing the rights to the name, EA's propensity to come up with exciting revamps of existing games and the interactive options they promise means that fans will prefer their 2023 version as opposed to FIFA's and in the long run, the governing body will lose a lot more than the＄1 billion they were seeking.
About the author:
Adarsh hates personal bios, Chelsea football club and Oxford commas. When he's not writing, he's busy playing FIFA on his PlayStation.
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