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The FIFA and EA Sports split is complex, but an own goal for everyone

OPINION: FIFA and EA Sports are parting ways by mutual consent and the future of football games is as open as the Man United back four. Can either deliver the innovative footy game fans deserve? Not for me, Clive.

The final whistle is about to blow on one of the most profitable partnerships in video game history. Right now, we don’t know enough to make a definitive judgement on the winners, losers, and where the future of football games lies in a post-EA Sports FIFA world. But it stands to reason gamers might not benefit.

Let’s look at the future of the newly crowned “EA Sports FC” franchise first. That name? Damn. You might as well call it VAR FC for all the feelings of brand positivity Electronic Arts conjures among gamers these days.

Judging by the report, it seems having FIFA in tow was curbing EA Sports more indulgent excesses. There’ll be nothing to stop the publisher really leaning into that commercial side of things now, further ensuring its EA Sports FC is more like a sportswear brand – with replica kits n’ all – than a video game where the focus is providing the best possible gameplay experiences for players.

In any of its current sports franchises, does EA Sports really seem invested in wowing us with a reimagining? Or does it feel like the company is going through the motions because it knows it has guaranteed millions in sales every year. Ask Madden fans the same question.

Removing the shackles of the FIFA brand probably isn’t going to result in a rebirth of creative spirit, unless the company is forced to embrace some new ideas from some of the talented people within its ranks.

For millions of people, the term ‘FIFA’ has nothing to do with the organisation that hosts the World Cup, it’s the name of the footy game they buy every year. Maybe without the FIFA license that culture of complacency will have to change? Maybe we will see EA Sports go back to the drawing board and revive its stale football game to secure its audience from a potential coup carrying the official FIFA name?

Or it could just dive, like Scrooge McDuck, deeper into the Ultimate Team money pit.

A new era for FIFA?

I can’t help but think FIFA has overplayed its hand here too. Reportedly, football’s governing body wanted double the $150 million it was already receiving from EA Sports, when EA itself was thinking it might be better off without the FIFA brand altogether.

Sure, FIFA will look to sell the license to another publisher. We’ll still see FIFA games. And, to be fair, we desperately need a new take on this tired format from someone. But who, exactly? 

Konami has made a right balls-up of its storied Pro Evolution Soccer franchise with a disastrous initial launch of its free-to-play revamp called eFootball, although improvements are coming.

Does Konami have the kind of money EA balked at, to splash on a license for FIFA eFootball? Probably not. Besides, its whole deal, for years during the Pro Evo days, was its ability to thrive in spite of the lack of official licenses that FIFA boasted.

What about Sports Interactive? Its wealth of knowledge on teams, clubs, and players from around the world is legendary. In fact, it’s so good, real-world teams buy the scouting data. But Football Manager is a management sim. You don’t take the shots, you pick the players who take them. Would the company be up for the challenge? I doubt it. 

And even if someone does take a punt – perhaps a new upstart developer with big backing and bigger ambitions – who is going to actually play the new FIFA? 

Who wants to play a football game that only has international teams, without licenses for the proper club game. As EA Sports has already said, it’ll only miss the World Cup once every four years. Everything else in EA Sports FC will remain present thanks to a robust line-up of other licenses and partnerships. 

FIFA’s final whistle

From a personal perspective, as someone who owned the original and still gets goosebumps from that “EA Sports. It’s in the game!” title screen, I’m not upset FIFA 23 will be the last of its ilk, 30 years after the original FIFA International Soccer. The time had come.

In recent years, FIFA has become a byword for some of the gaming’s most exploitative vices, namely the FIFA Ultimate Team collectibles and the Loot Boxes it denied were child-friendly gambling without anyone really believing them, including the UK government.

The games themselves have stagnated, with the annual cover star reveal generating way more hype than the game itself. It’s always on sale for about £20 quid the day after Christmas and EA is even giving this year’s FIFA away to PS Plus subscribers, sparking suggestions the game might go free-to-play and focus even harder on those microtransactions

In the real world, I’m sick to death of FIFA players thinking that playing the game religiously somehow gives them authority to comment on actual football. It’s created legions of fake experts, who live and die by the FIFA ratings. No one has more conviction in their terrible football takes than an avid FIFA gamer.

You know the type? Probably got a Twitter handle like @GodbaFUT482842. Those people truly believe players like Paul Pogba are actually great and get into Twitter wars with actual match-going Man United fans, who can see he’s stealing a wage regardless of his FIFA rating.

Gamers, who’ve probably never set foot in a football stadium, will continue to chime on matters outside of that fantasy world. Perhaps the more things change, the more they stay the same after all?

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