Yesterday, EA announced that your current licensing agreement with FIFA is ending: There will be a FIFA 23 later this year, but from 2023 onwards the long-running football series will be renamed EA Sports FC. This marks the end of an incredibly successful partnership. Over the decades, EA has made billions and built a true industry giant, as well as adding immeasurable value to the FIFA brand.
The split comes with an element of risk for EA and is a disaster for FIFA, which now has to build a competitor from scratch or bid goodbye forever to the billions of dollars the series has generated.
“We have over 150 million players on unique accounts, and when we think about the future of football right now, we really made that decision based on being able to deliver the experiences our players wanted,” said EA CEO Andrew. Wilson on an investor call following the announcement. “They’ve told us that they want more modes of play, that they want to see more business partners in the game that are representative and authentic to the wider global world of football. They’re telling us they want us to move beyond the core experience and really build on the experience digital football, and they’re telling us they want us to move really, really fast.”
Wilson spoke a little about FIFA and the decades-long partnership between the two organizations, but as we will see, FIFA itself is not being so kind. Wilson was then asked by investors in the Q&A about the risks inherent in re-branding an incredibly successful product and marketing the game without a FIFA license.
“I think it’s a little early to tell,” Wilson said. “We’re certainly being very thoughtful and deliberate about this. The important thing to understand, though, is that as you travel the world and meet players who are really deeply involved with our game – for a player in the UK, the most important thing for they’re the Premier League. For a player in Germany, the most important thing for them is the Bundesliga. And in Spain it’s La Liga, and so on and so forth as you go around the world.
“What we’re focused on right now is building unique experiences for each of these fans in each of these markets, and what you’ve seen today is that many of our partners support our ability to do that for our fans. . And, of course, whenever you change the name of a product, you have to be very careful, and we will certainly have to think about marketing in advance. But what gives us confidence as we move into this next phase of growth is that we are working with the partners and content that our fans love and relate to most directly in the markets where they do.”
Wilson was very gracious to FIFA, all things considered. After EA’s announcement, the governing body of world football announced which plans to compete in the video game market with new partners and aims to release its first “simulation football title” (which is what it calls the current FIFA) in 2024. It will also move to a non-exclusive licensing model: Whereas previously only EA had the right to use the FIFA name in games, now expect greater reach. Surprisingly, FIFA reckons there will be releases later this year.
“Several new non-simulation games are already in production and will be released during the third quarter of this year. The first is a personalized gaming experience featuring the world’s biggest event, the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022, which will bring new interactive experiences to fans all over the world.
“Following this initial revelation, FIFA will release more games and virtual experiences around this year’s FIFA World Cup. Additional projects are also under discussion with editors ahead of next year’s FIFA Women’s World Cup.”
FIFA President Gianni Infantino also spoke strongly: “I can assure you that the only authentic and real game that bears the FIFA name will be the best available to football players and fans. The FIFA name is the only global, original FIFA 23, FIFA 24, FIFA 25 and FIFA 26, and so on – the constant is the name FIFA and it will forever and remain THE BEST.”
Get that EA? It will be the BEST! Unfortunately for Infantino, EA Sports currently makes the best football game in the world, and FIFA has been getting to it from the start. Taking on EA Sports at their own game is a daunting challenge and FIFA is building on three decades of gaming heritage from the start.
It’s fascinating to consider what unlikely alliances this could generate. The most obvious, of course, is with Japanese publisher Konami, who recently rebranded the long-running Pro Evolution Soccer series as eFootball. So far… it’s been a disaster. But this series was, not long ago, FIFA’s only real competition, and even though it never seriously challenged the EA series commercially, many would argue that it was once the best game.
Konami has decades of experience making football games, and while it couldn’t offer FIFA the kind of licensing money it wanted from EA (apparently $1 billion every four years), it already produces modes equivalent to much of what Konami does. FIFA offers. It would be an obvious choice, as well as a plot twist. Another competitor is the next game UFL which is an unproven amount, but crucially, it already exists in a studio somewhere.
Infantino naturally attributes what happened to “FIFA’s vision of future games”.
“As announced in October 2021, FIFA intends to work with multiple partners rather than lock all gaming and esports rights exclusively with one publisher for the long term,” he said. Funny way of saying they wouldn’t give us a billion.
The decisive year will be 2024: “FIFA is currently engaging with leading game publishers, media companies and investors regarding the development of a major new FIFA football simulation game title for 2024.” That’s when we’ll be treated to the spectacle of EA Sports FC versus FIFA 25, as the former partners go to war for one of the most lucrative audiences in gaming.