EA blows the final whistle on FIFA

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Last year EA announced it would look to re-brand the long-running FIFA series. Reports at the time suggested that FIFA wanted too much money (opens in new tab) for EA executives, who were increasingly aware that the game is bigger than the license. The break-up seemed inevitable when EA trademarked ‘EA Sports FC’ (opens in new tab), and now it’s happened officially.

EA’s current licensing deal with FIFA means that we will see a FIFA 23 later this year, but from 2023 onwards the series will be called EA Sports FC. The first FIFA game was made for the Sega Mega Drive in 1993, so that marks 30 years of what has to be considered one of the all-time great sports series.

David Jackson, vice president at EA Sports, told the BBC (opens in new tab): “The world of football and the world of entertainment are changing, and they clash within our product.

“In the future our players will demand of us the ability to be more expansive in that offering. At the moment, we engage in play as a primary form of interactive experience. Soon, watching and creating content are going to be equally as important for fans.

“Under the licensing conventions that we had agreed with FIFA 10 years ago, there were some restrictions that weren’t going to allow us to be able to build those experiences for players.”

Sounds a bit better than ‘FIFA wanted too much of our lovely money’, but it is also true or at least arguable that EA has done a lot more than FIFA to build the FIFA brand over recent decades. The publisher did greatly benefit from the authenticity that came with the license—official kits, player names, and stadia—but now is able to negotiate directly with teams and national leagues. It says it has already signed up 19,000 players, 700 teams, and more than 30 leagues for EA Sports FC.

However much sense 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 on the back of two games: FIFA and Madden. EA also faces the task of bringing the FIFA audience with it, and there’s even the question of whether it might end up competing against another FIFA series as well as eFootball—FIFA has announced it’s seeking other partners to make a videogame (opens in new tab).

A player shoots at goal in FIFA 22.

(Image credit: EA)

Mind you, FIFA may have trouble finding one: Reports indicate that it had been seeking an eye-watering $1 billion dollars every world cup cycle (ie, four years) for the license.

Jackson told the BBC that “it wasn’t ultimately down to money,” but about creating “the very best experiences” for players and business partners—which just happens to have to do with how a company invests its money.

“Change is always going to be concerning for people at first,” says 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 the current FIFA products.”

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In terms of the game itself, a blog post on the EA Sports’ site (opens in new tab) by EVP Cam Weber goes into some detail:

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

“This new independent platform will bring fresh opportunity—to innovate, create and evolve. This is much more than just a change of symbol—as EA Sports, we’re committed to ensuring EA Sports FC is a symbol of change.”

EA’s Jackson also mentioned that they can build “different experiences” thanks to moving away from the FIFA license, and while it’s obviously all speculation at this point, it’s not too hard to imagine what they might be. In-game events a la Fortnite, further integration of real-world football with shows and live matches, using players’ presences more aggressively in-game, a wider range of cosmetics (FIFA had a deal with Adidas, meaning it was the only sportswear company in the games), and basically whatever else EA can think of to make this the ultimate one-stop-shop for football fans. First person to say ‘metaverse’ gets a studs-up tackle.

So, get ready for the mother of all re-branding exercises, alongside a reinvention of one of the industry’s stalwarts. Not that it seems EA has much to worry about. Konami’s still struggling to get eFootball into a fit 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, commercially at least, it may well come from whomever picks up the FIFA brand EA did so much to build.

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