FIFA 23 closed a chapter on EA SPORTS’ longstanding exclusivity deal to make FIFA video games and if the new Qatar World Cup titles are anything to go by, they could live to regret walking away from their former partner.
An extremely public back and forth between the two global brands culminated in them going separate ways after 2022.
EA bosses claimed their video games are arguably bigger than the international football governing body itself these days and were reluctant to spend a reported $2.5 billion to keep the official licensing for the next decade.
Instead, they opted to use the name EA SPORTS FC moving forward – which will certainly take some getting used to.
Infantino promised “FIFA name will be the best” in gaming
With Electronic Arts refusing to renew the partnership while potentially losing exclusivity, FIFA president Gianni Infantino insisted he was confident football fans would only follow a series that used their naming rights after the deal collapsed.
He said: “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 FIFA name is the only global, original title. FIFA 23, FIFA 24, FIFA 25 and FIFA 26, and so on – the constant is the FIFA name and it will remain forever and remain THE BEST.”
Fighting talk from a position of great strength, you could say. At that moment in time, the argument could be advanced that EA had more to lose. FIFA could have kept the series going and found another developer to churn out football games, leaving their former partners with not just a new brand to build up but also a major competitor to split market share.
However, there is not a single shred of evidence to suggest this – possibly exciting – plot twist will ever come to fruition. It’s actually looking pretty bleak for the brand.
Qatar FIFA World Cup 2022 official games revealed
On November 9, a handful of officially licensed games for the Qatar World Cup were announced, designed by Web 3.0 and incorporating blockchain technology.
One is called AI League and offers a 4v4 experience, where players take control of AI-powered footballers in the Metaverse, unlocking rewards by predicting the scores of real-world World Cup matches. The others are Matchday Challenge: FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 Edition, FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 on Phygtl, and FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 in the Upland Metaverse.
I’m sure EA is quaking in its boots reading the descriptions.
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Instead of taking on ambitious projects based on what players love about the FIFA series – the sports simulator and arcade feel to realistic gameplay – it looks more like a cash cow exercise.
Not a single thing in all four games would appeal to me as a casual FIFA player who buys these video games routinely. That’s not to say these blockchain and mobile experiences won’t have an audience, it just won’t be a relatively large one by comparison to a AAA game with over 20 years of brand recognition.
In the case of AI League, the aesthetics look angled toward younger football fans, its game mechanics do not look like anything related to the beautiful game, and it releases after the World Cup (despite being advertised as a game for the Qatar tournament). In short, it might have the name of “THE BEST” football managing body, though it is difficult to say whether these games will be anywhere near as successful as EA projects.
In fact, I can confidently say they won’t be. Players come back year-on-year for Career Mode experiences and competitive gameplay such as Ultimate Team… Not for some AI characters or chilling in the Metaverse.
From a business standpoint, it will undoubtedly be a profitable exercise to take FIFA around the world like a circus for a few quarters. It allows them to monetize their licensing across a wider range of platforms and in different countries, not to mention the demand for FIFA as a collaborative brand.
Nevertheless, there are huge question marks about whether that cash-fast approach will be more valuable than their previous long-term partnership with EA. By not offering any naming license exclusivity, putting pen to paper on a multi-billion dollar deal with a major video game publisher will still be extremely difficult in terms of justifying the cost.
By pricing Electronic Arts out of a deal – a company, love them or hate them, that knew what the audience wanted to play – there’s a very good chance FIFA will live to regret their decision. A circus is an apt definition of the situation, too.