If Erling Haaland signing for Manchester City is the worst-kept footballing secret of 2022, EA severing ties with governing body FIFA runs it a close second. The pair have worked together dating all the way back to 1993. FIFA International Soccer became that year's biggest seller despite only being released on December 15. Yet FIFA 23 will be their final collaboration, with the globe's biggest sports game known as EA Sports FC going forwards.
EA hasn't shied away from confessing a financial motive. Its contract with FIFA expires after November's World Cup, and the New York Times reports that football's big bosses demanded $1 billion per year to re-up. That moolah can be better spent elsewhere. "Money plays a critical role in most negotiations, but the reason we are doing this is to create the very best experiences we can for both players and partners,” EA Sports vice president David Jackson tells the BBC.
On a gameplay front, it's potentially exciting news. FIFA has always been keen to duck controversy in its football games. The late '90s saw innovations like deliberate fouls and even a dive button find favor with fans, yet disappear as quickly as they were added. Refs are robotic, as FIFA wouldn't want them to be seen making mistakes. Without a third party playing big brother, EA could add a human element. This happens in MLB The Show 22, with umpires sometimes calling balls and strikes incorrectly. The action feels more lifelike as a result.
The catch is that online players are going to pounce on such mistakes and decry them as scripted. If so, make them offline only. Handballs, dives, two-footed lunges, and refereeing errors are an everyday element of football. Without anyone to tell them 'no', EA can let all these things flow.
Jackson suggests that gameplay is only one element which will improve with the shackles off. “At the moment, we engage in play as a primary form of interactive experience,” he says. “Soon, watching and creating content are going to be equally as important for fans.”
The tease of watching football within FIFA is fascinating. The game already features the ability to tune in to other humans playing weekend league matches, so that can't be what he's referring to. Is EA weighing up a bid for specific league rights, to be indulged within FIFA? Imagine enjoying Arsenal vs Spurs live from the Emirates on a Sunday afternoon, before seamlessly replaying that game with the exact same line-ups. EA could offer this in a way that even heavyweight broadcasters like Sky, Amazon, and BT can't.
The suggestion of content creation is especially tantalizing across the community. Sports gamers love editing. It was huge in PES, it's the best bit of Ashes Cricket, and it's a driving force behind WWE 2K22's ascent from the grave. FIFA's been miles behind for years.
Yet long standing fans fondly recall the series' short-lived Creation Centre. Introduced in FIFA 11, it enabled you to build teams in an online browser, then import them into the game. Past, present, future, fictional: everything was in-play. I remember spending hours on my Sunday morning team, Sportzcoach United. Four million were shared in total, to the point that the mode was expanded in FIFA 12 to include shirt-sponsor images. Everyone loved it. So, much like the dive button and deliberate fouls, it was quietly removed – never to be spoken of again.
Did FIFA demand its removal? There's no official word. But those four million teams were likely a moderating nightmare, and it's known as an organization which prefers to maintain control. Regardless of the reasons for disappearing, EA dictating its own destiny now opens up the possibility of Creation Centre returning. Sportzcoach vs Spurs may finally be restored to my weekend fixture list.
Jackson teases as much: "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 [creative] experiences for players.”
Kit of alright
Rest assured you won't have to create all your own teams. EA says that the Premier League, Bundesliga, La Liga, and UEFA are already signed up for EA Sports FC 24. It's promising 19,000 athletes, 700 teams, 100 stadiums, and over 30 leagues.
Even so, FIFA says this isn't the end of, er, FIFA. There will still be a FIFA 24, and 25, and so on, with a new developer taking on the reins. "The FIFA name is the only global, original title,” it proclaims, defiantly. Meaning that after 30 years of producing FIFA's biggest rival, Pro Evo masterminds Konami could soon captain its longstanding enemy. Et tu, Sol Campbell. As a brand, eFootball already feels like an irrecoverable disaster, so a cheeky bid might serve the Japanese publisher well.
There's a precedent here though, and it's called Championship Manager. Publisher Eidos insisted on maintaining that name when cutting ties with developer Sports Interactive, who went on to make Football Manager instead. One of those series sold 33 million copies last year and the other was never taken seriously under new management, and has been dead for half a decade. It's not hard to imagine EA Sports FC vs New FIFA playing out the same way.
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