Like people who are addicted to Coca-Cola products, gamers can spot a knockoff within the first three seconds of tasting one. Try giving a Coke lover a Pepsi, and they get offended. A waiter responding to a request for a Coke with, “We only have Pepsi. Is that OK?” is met with a laugh more often than a “Yes.”
The same goes for people who love sports games. Gamers who love the NBA play NBA2K, which is why EA Sports stopped making NBA Live. The Show is the only viable baseball game for MLB fans. And like football enthusiasts with Madden, FIFA is the gold standard for soccer fans.
Well, that was the case until Tuesday, when it was announced that EA Sports and FIFA are splitting their longtime partnership that brings the federation $150 million annually. It’s a baffling move by one of the most money-hungry sports’ associations in the world, because the video game company’s rebranded EA Sports FC is going to chug along, dominating the soccer simulation market the same way its predecessor did.
Throwing away that kind of cash is only smart if you have a better offer/option, and FIFA’s bright idea is its own competing video game to roll out alongside its new streaming service FIFA+. Here’s FIFA president Gianni Infantino’s delusional statement boasting about a game that not only won’t compete with EA Sports FC, but probably won’t even get made.
“I can assure you that the only authentic, real game that has the FIFA name will be the best one available for gamers and football fans.
“The constant is the FIFA name and it will remain forever and remain the best.”
This isn’t an NFL situation where EA can’t use its teams and player likenesses without the NFL’s consent. There will be generic teams and crests in the game as a result of disputes, but that was already happening in 2020, so it wasn’t incited by this divorce. That said, the English Premier League, La Liga, Bundesliga, and UEFA have already signed on with EA Sports, and so have most big name clubs you can think of.
And why wouldn’t they stick with the legacy brand? EA’s FIFA familiarized countless Americans (myself included) with professional soccer — and its exquisite announcers — and only continues to grow in popularity with the boom of esports. Being the game’s cover athlete is akin to being the Madden cover athlete with more exposure but the same amount of curse. FIFA, not Madden, was EA Sports’ most profitable title from 2019-2022.
The only difference between the soccer game people know and love and EA Sports FC is a name change and the absence of a World Cup edition every four years, according to Vice President of EA Sports David Jackson. (No one will really miss the World Cup version either. It also was a cash grab, and as long as fans can still play international friendlies with their favorite national teams — who control their own likenesses — it’ll be fine.)
The video game company exec told the BBC that money played a factor in the partnership dissolution, as there were reports that FIFA sought to double its fee. He also spouted some rhetoric about a different direction to build a “brand for the future.”
“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.”
I don’t know what that means or what he’s referring to. “Content creation” seems like the new “pivot to video” catchphrase that companies repeat when they’re trying to sound smart.
Regardless, Jackson and EA Sports have the advantage because soccer fans are going to treat FIFA’s spinoff like they treat Pro Evolution Soccer — which is to not play it and question the sanity of those who do. The only reason gamers buy the new edition of sports games every year is for updated rosters. There might be a small tweak to a glitch, better graphics, or a new career mode, but it’s more or less the same game, with the same button layout that someone can pick up and enjoy even if they haven’t played it since college.
Soccer fans won’t weep for FIFA losing out on $150 million every year, and they’ll probably laugh at the millions they dump into FIFA Pro Futbol (or whatever generic name they choose). When you have a piece of one of the top three most influential, profitable sports video game franchises ever, you don’t part ways. Be happy with the licensing money, and stick to extorting countries to host the World Cup.
If the people who own the Coke formula and Coca-Cola were separate entities, and they split up, and the cola was made under a new name, while Coca-Cola pushed their new, “better” version, would you give that a try, or find the original, universally loved version under its new name?
Yeah, that’s what I thought. I see you over there, pushing that Starlight Coke six-pack to the back of the fridge.