EA gives the final whistle for FIFA

Last year, EA announced that it would try to rebrand the long-running FIFA series. Reports at the time suggested that FIFA wanted a lot of money for EA executives, increasingly aware that the game is bigger than the license. Separation seemed inevitable when EA trademark ‘EA Sports FC’and now it has officially happened.

EA’s current licensing deal with FIFA means we’ll see a FIFA 23 later this year, but starting in 2023 the series will be called EA Sports FC. The first FIFA game was made for the Sega Mega Drive in 1993, marking 30 years of what must be considered one of the greatest sports series of all time.

David Jackson, Vice President of EA Sports, told the BBC: “The world of football and the world of entertainment are changing and they clash within our product.

“In the future, our players will demand from us the ability to be more expansive in this offering. We are currently engaging in the game as a primary form of interactive experience. Soon, watching and creating content will be equally important to fans.

“Under the licensing conventions that we agreed with FIFA 10 years ago, there were some restrictions that would not allow us to build these experiences for players.”

It sounds a little better than ‘FIFA wanted a lot of our lovely money’, but it’s also true or at least arguable that EA has done a lot more than FIFA to build the FIFA brand over the past few decades. The publisher has benefited greatly from the authenticity that came with the license – official kits, player names and stadiums – but can now deal directly with national teams and leagues. He says he has already signed up 19,000 players, 700 teams and over 30 leagues to EA Sports FC.

As much sense as this move might make for the publisher, it also marks the end of an incredibly successful partnership. EA Sports as it is was basically built around two games: FIFA and Madden. EA is also faced with the task of bringing the FIFA audience with it, and there’s even the question of whether it could end up competing against another FIFA series besides eFootball—FIFA announced that it is looking for other partners to make a video game.

(Image credit: EA)

Mind you, FIFA might have trouble finding one: reports indicate that it was seeking $1 billion dollars every World Cup cycle (i.e. four years) for the license.

Jackson told the BBC it was “not about money” but about creating “the best experiences” for gamers and business partners – which happens to have to do with how a company invests its money.

“Change is always going to be worrisome for people at first,” says Jackson. “In terms of things they will miss, players will only notice two things: the name and a World Cup content every four years. Other than that, very little will change about the things they know and love about the current World Cup products. FIFA.”

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As for the game itself, a blog post on the EA Sports website by EVP Cam Weber goes into some details:

“Everything you love about our games will be a part of EA Sports FC – the same great experiences, modes, leagues, tournaments, clubs and athletes will all be there. Ultimate Team, Career Mode, Pro Clubs and VOLTA Football will all be there.

“This new independent platform will bring new opportunities – to innovate, create and evolve. This is much more than just a symbol change – as EA Sports, we are committed to ensuring that EA Sports FC is a symbol of change.”

EA’s Jackson also mentioned that they can build “different experiences” thanks to the FIFA license move away, and while it’s obviously all speculation at this point, it’s not too hard to imagine what they might be. In-game events à la Fortnite, greater integration of real-world football with live shows and matches, using player presence more aggressively in-game, a wider range of cosmetics (FIFA had an agreement with Adidas, the which meant it was the only sportswear company in the games), and basically anything else EA can think of to make this the best one-stop shop for football fans. The first person to say ‘metaverse’ receives a studs-up tackle.

So get ready for the mother of all re-branding exercises, along with reinventing one of the industry’s mainstays. Not that it looks like EA has much to worry about. Konami is still struggling to put eFootball in a tuning state for competition, while a new and upcoming F2P football game called UFL is starting from scratch. If EA Sports FC is going to face serious competition, at least commercially, it may come from whoever picks up the FIFA brand that EA has done so much to build.

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