This time every year, the new version of FIFA drops; gamers chat gameplay updates, ballers rant about ratings, and parents groan about their kids' renewed Ultimate Team infatuation. This year is different.
In October ‘21, The New York Times reported FIFA23 marks the end of the FIFA x EA partnership. So next year, we’ll see them go head to head with FIFA24 and EA Sports FC.
In May, FIFA’s president, Gianni Infantino announced that "the only authentic, real game that has the FIFA name will be the best one available.”
Beyond being a jibe at EA, Infantino is equating the best game with the one which most accurately simulates reality. We can expect this to be their ambition for FIFA24, whether they can find a partner that can enable them to deliver on it is another question.
In the other dugout, EA Sports’ VP David Jackson has said that “football and gaming clash in the games’ current format”. He’s highlighted that for younger gamers, “creating and viewing content is as important as playing.” Which based on the popularity of co-creation games like Roblox and Minecraft, makes sense. In EA Sports FC, we'll have more customisation, more cultural crossover and more opportunities for gamers to create.
There are few examples of a brand bringing sport, gaming and culture together more authentically than EA. Gaming and sport, of course, form the foundation of the game but EA’s integration of fashion, music and broader culture is where it gets interesting for gamers and for brands. With the creative shackles of FIFA off, we can expect this to see this taken to another level.
The game’s soundtrack has been lauded for platforming the UK’s brightest emerging artists for years. Che Lingo, Bakar and Sad Night Dynamite, all got the call up in FIFA22 and CentralCee features in ‘23. Sure they might’ve been destined for greatness anyway, but the FIFA integration has become a rite of passage. With such a rich musical heritage, and with in-game gigs becoming more popular, in-game stadium concerts that form part of artists’ tours feels like a no-brainer for EA.
EA has also casually incorporated fashion in-game for the last few years. FIFA20 saw the introduction of customisable manager outfits and the appointment of Hector Bellerin as VOLTA stylist. Since then, Adidas, Jordan, and Killa Villa have all launched clothing in VOLTA. This year, EA collaborated with Art of Football to create a collection of ‘90s-inspired jerseys that can be purchased in-game and in real life. We’ll see more unreal fashion collabs in EA Sports FC. So if you’re a fashion brand that's inspired by RTFKT and want to connect with gamers, EA Sports FC is the way forward.
Beyond music and fashion, the inclusion of Ted Lasso’s AFC Richmond in career mode and Heroes in Ultimate Team, shows how TV and film fuse with football in-game. I’ve seen a few fans complaining about the Ted Lasso campaign on Twitter but for me it’s spot on. Contextually relevant. Culturally interesting. Fun.
Whilst these campaigns are great, maintaining reliability and credibility is going to be important for EA. The Ted Lasso campaign bodes well, but if replacing the cachet lost as part of the FIFA split is the objective, they still have a long way to go.
Either way, as FIFA aims to make a game more realistic than EA’s, and EA’s creative shackles are lifted, football gaming will be different after today. As a football fan, I hope FIFA can deliver on their ambition but if you’re a brand looking to play a meaningful role in culture through gaming, I’d pick a partnership with EA Sports.