In life, there are many staples, peanut butter and jam, bread and a toaster, and in gaming, it’s EA and FIFA. For nearly 30 years, EA and FIFA have worked together to release a FIFA game every year and made it one of the greatest and most successful sports game franchises of all time. On the surface, EA and FIFA were cruising with the franchise’s success but behind the scenes, their relationship was rocky and seems to be coming to an end. The big question is now what happens when these two parties and who benefits and what does the future hold for football games? Let’s find out.
How it All Started
Let’s go back to 1993 when EA would release the first FIFA game called FIFA International Soccer for the Sega Mega Drive (see Wikipedia). This was a monumental game as it was the first game to have the FIFA licensing under it, but it was different than the FIFA you know now. There were no real player names and they only had national teams, not like the many teams we have today. It would be ported to many consoles after its release. FIFA 96 would be the first game to use 3D graphics, real player names, accurate positions, rankings, and customization tools for tools.
The games would continue to improve both in graphics and gameplay. Increase in the number of teams, leagues and competitions, and player likeness. These improvements every year would ensure the success of the franchise and the money-making behind it.
The Many Successes of FIFA
So how does FIFA take this franchise and turn it into one of the most successful and best-selling sports franchise games of all time? You find a way to monetize the system. There are many successes of the franchise. The game is localized into 18 different languages and is available in 51 countries. As of 2021, FIFA has sold over 325 million copies (source). It’s been ported to almost every console available from the Sega Mega Drive to Nintendo 3DS.
FIFA 12 was the fastest-selling sports game ever, selling over 325 million copies. Every FIFA release would bring in improvements and changes. FIFA 98 would be the first title to have a licensed soundtrack. FIFA 2001 introduced online play for the first time but only for the PC. FIFA 17 we saw the use of the Frostbite Engine and introduced a story mode called “The Journey”.
Probably the game biggest game in the franchise would be FIFA 09 as it would introduce a game-changing game mode FIFA Ultimate Team through paid DLC.
Rise of Ultimate Team
March 19th of 2009 is a historic day in the EA and FIFA franchise. It would be the first day that FIFA Ultimate Team (FUT) launched, through a downloadable expansion for FIFA 09. It cost $10 and allows players to build their dream teams with cards, take them online, and battle other players. This enticed one million players to take the dip, ultimately crashing the servers. FUT 11 the mode was made free-to-play to attract more players who haven’t. FIFA 12 would be a new era for FUT as it would be included in the game allowing even more players. It would also hit PC players, having more than 6.7 million people playing. By FUT 14 more than 20 million people were playing the mode.
Ultimate Team would become a huge moneymaker for EA bringing in record profits yearly. In 2021 EA would post a record high of $1.6 billion revenue from Ultimate Team, according to NME. While many have an issue with EA over their use of loot boxes and microtransactions, you can’t deny that even with all the issues the mode has, it’s been a huge success. Ultimate Team is just another knot in the success of the franchise.
With all this success, there was nothing that could go wrong with this partnership. Right?
In 2021 reports revealed that the relationship between both parties has kind of soured over the years. The contract between the two companies is coming to an end later this year after the Qatar World Cup. Both companies sat down re-negotiate the contract, but it seems they want different things.
What FIFA Wants…
First FIFA is looking for more money from EA for using their name. From $150 million to $1 billion over 4 years (every World Cup) cycle, just for them to use their name and trademark. This shortened contract also means that FIFA has more control over the future of the franchise. Meaning they look for other developers and force EA to play by their own rules. The possibility of the world cup moving to every two years has even more implications, which can lead to more issues with a renegotiation. FIFA may also not be willing to give EA an exclusive contract which complicates things.
What EA Wants…
EA isn’t going to pay that money (even though they could) is looking to expand FIFA. The biggest issue that’s plagued FIFA is the incremental updates the games received yearly. This is mostly due to the restrictions that FIFA placed upon them. They’ve been wanting to introduce new modes and move away from the simulation aspects of the game and move into more arcade-style gameplay. While also looking to expand the game into Esports but FIFA knowing that EA would gain more profits from this, decided to restrict them.
With both parties fighting over money and expectations, negotiations have broken down. We all know that both companies aren’t spotless and money-hungry. EA knows that if they give into FIFA, they have less control and must spend more money. FIFA has seen the huge amount of profits that EA has gotten from their name and is looking to get some of that success.
If these two companies do separate what does the future hold for them and who benefits more?
The Future for EA
If you think that EA is going to lose a lot from this deal, you’d be dead wrong. While EA will lose the FIFA name, they gain something else. Freedom. EA has licensing rights with more than 300 other teams, leagues, and national associations. The biggest loss to EA is naming rights and the world cups, everything else is on the table. Meaning that they don’t need FIFA as much as they think.
Thanks to EA’s strong marketing they’ve managed to turn a simple football game into one of the biggest videogame brands. They can easily rebrand and create a new football game with their name upfront. With plans already in place for the eventual break-up. They can easily maintain their quality and be consistent with yearly releases. The biggest plus is Ultimate Team the money maker of the franchise.
Cutting out the middleman means that EA can keep more money and pocket they would pay FIFA. Expanding into Esports is another plus for them. EA knows how to make a successful blueprint football game and with no competition close to their power.
The Future for FIFA
Thanks to EA’s strong marketing, FIFA can easily use the name to gain ground quickly. The biggest challenge is finding a developer who can match the quality of EA. There aren’t many developers that are experienced in sports games. The biggest being 2K who currently has the successful NBA 2K series. They seem to be the only ones that can challenge EA. Though many aren’t dying to work with FIFA due to their reputation and 2K is even more difficult to work with.
Another challenge is trying to gain market share from EA, years Konami tried to challenge EA with their PES series but never came close to making a dent. FIFA would have to spend a good amount of time searching, while EA can immediately pick up where they left off.
A lot is holding FIFA back from succeeding but stranger things have happened in the world of gaming.
FIFA 23 could be the final game released under these two companies. If that does happen, it would be the end of an era. The video game industry is ever-changing and one day instead of buying the 50th FIFA title we would instead be buying EA Sports FC.
What do you think of the split and what’s your favorite FIFA title?
Last Updated: March 23, 2022