EA Sports and FIFA are getting a divorce
Earlier this week, video game publisher and developer EA announced it will stop making games alongside world football governing body FIFA from 2023, after failing to agree a fee for the licensing of international teams and tournaments such as the World Cup.
EA Sports has released an annual FIFA-branded game since 1993 and there will be one final release - FIFA 23 - on sale this Autumn as usual. FIFA may keep the name but EA Sports will keep the game. In announcing their divorce EA confirmed that they will be starting the “EA Sports FC” brand under which its future games will be released.
The question that popped into the minds of every eSports gamer after hearing the news: will EA still be able to use real club & player information?
EA Sports: it’s in the game
FIFA games have been elevated by the authenticity it offered. Being able to use the real names for players, clubs and competitions elevated the FIFA series above the likes of Konami’s Pro Evolution Soccer games where gamers used to play with teams such as Merseyside Red (instead of Liverpool) or Man Red (instead of Manchester United).
EA said that they will continue to offer real-world experiences having signed up 19,000 athletes, 700 teams, 100 stadiums and over 30 leagues for future games. This includes the UK’s Premier League, Spain’s La Liga, Germany’s Bundesliga as well as UEFA competitions and South America’s CONMEBOL federation. These entities are still controllable because of separate licensing deals brokered with clubs and leagues.
Nevertheless the move is a gamble for EA, whose fortunes have been closely tied with FIFA for the last 30 years. “It’s a big moment for the organization,” David Jackson, vice president at EA Sports, said. “Interactive football experiences have been central to what has made EA Sports successful over the last 30 years.”
“Change is always going to be concerning for people at first,” said David Jackson. “In terms of things that they’ll miss, players will notice only two things: The name and a World Cup piece of content every four years. Outside of that, very little will change about the things they know, and love about current FIFA products.”
Has FIFA scored an own-goal?
In playing hardball with its naming rights, FIFA is also taking a massive gamble that the proposed FIFA branded alternative to EA’s games will be any good. Gianni Infantino, the President of FIFA, said in a statement: “I can assure you 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.”
But competition in the soccer market is hard.
Japanese company Konami discovered this last year with the troubled release of its eFootball game hyped to be the next generation of the Pro-Evo Soccer series. Konami had the expertise and yet still its game fared poorly on release. So what can FIFA bring to the party that Konami cannot?
One option would be to partner with an established eSports publisher, somebody like “2K” which produces the NBA and PGA Tour games. But even a company with their expertise and history would struggle to build the data, coding and quality assurance in time for a 2024 release.
Nevertheless, while it is fair to be skeptical of FIFA’s foresight, gamers can hope that this will inject some fire into EA Sports as for too long the company has rested on their laurels with respect to their yearly cash cow. It is about time that EA was encouraged to get more inventive with their soccer content; this big moment is an opportunity to restructure the FIFA franchise to the forefront of the eSports revolution.