EA Sports have announced that their 30-year association with football governing body FIFA is coming to an end. The news had been rumoured for months, but it remains a seismic shift for the world’s biggest-selling sports video game. The FIFA franchise has become synonymous with football gaming, and for the first time in many players’ lifetime there will not be a new annual iteration to play.
FIFA 23, due later this year, will be the final instalment in the iconic series. Images posted across social media by clubs from Real Madrid to Burnley teased July 2023 as the date to “find out more” about EA’s replacement game. In a statement released by the publisher, EA clarified that FIFA 23 would utilise the FIFA licence and feature the World Cup. But on the surface, it appears that FIFA 23 will be the last game to feature the global festival of football, due to its status as a FIFA competition.
So what will EA’s new football title include? You can expect to see the same stadiums, players and leagues. Those agreements are made directly with the video game company, and will remain active for EA Sports FC. As mentioned, the World Cup is likely out of the question. It is hard to see FIFA as an organisation signing over their crown jewel without their name prominently displayed in the game title.
The features are yet to be confirmed, but it feels unlikely EA Sports FC will sacrifice much. Ultimate Team is the current game’s most lucrative mode for EA, and the popularity of Pro Clubs and Career Mode likely insulates them from the chop. The most likely mode to go by the wayside is VOLTA, EA’s unloved futsal-inspired iteration. Heralded as a return to the era of FIFA Street, VOLTA features none of the cartoonish fun of that cult classic. The transition to EA Sports FC would be an opportune moment to quietly drop what was an interesting experiment but ultimately a failure.
While EA have spoken about the future of their football games, there has yet to be any word on what the governing body FIFA will do next. The name carries a cultural cachet which would give a new football game a head start. While EA’s efforts will be the true sequel to FIFA 23 in the ways that count, in official terms another company can produce a direct follow-up. FIFA are free to negotiate with other development houses to put out FIFA 24. It would be almost wasteful not to, knowing that for many consumers the name FIFA is the only one that matters in football games.
The FIFA franchise has seen off many challengers over three decades in order to gain this status. Michael Owen’s World League Soccer, Three Lions, RedCard, Club Football and Actua Soccer are just a handful of the titles that have tried and failed to knock FIFA off its perch. As FIFA increasingly became the Coca-Cola of football gaming, Pro Evolution Soccer was its Pepsi. Konami’s games lacked the licences of its rival (who can forget Brazil’s free-kick loving full-back Roberto Larcos?), but it made up the shortfall with often-superior gameplay. The gap closed this year when Konami’s PES successor eFootball flopped massively, but through failure perhaps there is opportunity? Having bungled their high-profile rebrand, perhaps Japanese publisher Konami will look to revive their football department by taking on the FIFA name?
Whoever claims the name, whether it is football veterans Konami or a new publisher entering the fray, there will be pressure to get it right. All eyes will be on a new FIFA game in whatever form it takes. While that built-in fan loyalty might sell copies in the first year, fans won’t return next year for more of a bad thing if it isn’t up to scratch. The football gaming world has seen this phenomenon before.
In 2004, the developers of Championship Manager split from the game’s publisher. Sports Interactive left Eidos Interactive, taking the wildly popular game’s source code with them. SI refined the code and released the first Football Manager game in 2005. Eidos had the popular CM brand, but no developer and essentially no game. The Championship Manager franchise limped on until 2018, mainly as a mobile game trading off an iconic name and little else. FM on the other hand became a juggernaut, with over 446 million matches being played over the course of 2021. Eidos had the brand, but SI had the game.
Now, EA Sports have the game everyone recognises as FIFA, which counts for a lot no matter what it’s called. Football’s governing body will no doubt find a home for the iconic FIFA name, and will likely shift a fair few copies of their first title. But as the CM/FM split shows, fans will only return for a quality product. Which side of the divide will provide one? That remains to be seen.