Soccer game

In leaked comments, EA says FIFA license is holding back football game design

Artist’s conception of the jockey for the position between EA and FIFA in this license fight.

We’ve known for months that EA is questioning the value of its nearly three-decade relationship with FIFA, the international football governing body whose name has become synonymous with an ultra-popular video game series. Now, however, recently leaked statements attributed to EA CEO Andrew Wilson detail how “ironically the FIFA license has actually been a hindrance” to some of the ways EA wants to “grow the franchise”.

“Our players are telling us they want more game modes, different things beyond 11v11, and different types of gameplay,” Wilson said in a November show of hands, according to a video game chronicle report. “I would tell you it’s been a fight for FIFA to recognize the kinds of things we want to create because they say our license only covers certain categories… FIFA is just the name on the box , but they ruled out our ability to be able to diversify into areas that players want.”

Beyond gameplay, the FIFA license also limits EA’s ability to include “more cultural and commercial brands” in the game, Wilson reportedly said. FIFA’s existing relationship with Adidas prohibits the inclusion of any Nike products or branding in the game, for example.

And Wilson reportedly said that even when FIFA does end up approving something, “due to the nature of the approval timelines and various things around our FIFA license, it’s actually been very difficult, and we’re moving a lot slower as we want.”

It wouldn’t be the first time a coveted sports license has impacted game design. In American football, the NFL asked Midway to tone down features such as late hits and excessive celebrations in the over the top NFL Blitz series. When EA reported NFL Blitz in 2012the league would have asked for the most excessive violence in the game to be toned down to align with “their view of player health and safety”.

EA’s NFL license also prevents other publishers from creating “simulation” games with official league support. Thus Take-Two says that the titles in his next revival of the NFL2K brand “will be simulation-free football gaming experiences”, whatever that means.

A strained relationship

The comments come during the longest public battle between EA and FIFA since FIFA International Football was released for the Sega Genesis in 1993. Last October, EA publicly confirmed that it was “reviewing our naming rights agreement with FIFA” and considering renaming the series in the future. Shortly after this announcement, the New York Times reported that FIFA was asking EA to double the nearly $150 million it pays each year for these license fees.

FIFA responded to EA’s decision by issue own statement saying it was “adopt[ing] new business positioning in games and eSports” and “engage with various industry players, including developers, investors and analysts, to build a long-term vision for the games, eSports and interactive entertainment.

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FIFA’s reported licensing demand of more than $1 billion for each four-year World Cup cycle is significant, even for a series that recently grossed $1.62 billion just annual sales of “Ultimate Team” microtransactions. And FIFA’s push for more money is apparently causing EA to question whether it’s getting enough value out of this licensing relationship, which is one of more than 300 it has with individual football teams, leagues and other partners for the game.

“Basically what we get from FIFA in a year without the World Cup is the four letters on the front of the box, in a world where most people don’t even see the box anymore because they’re buying the game digitally,” Wilson reportedly said. noted. During World Cup years, the added authenticity of having a digital version of the international tournament “is important, but it’s not the most important [thing]”Wilson continued.

Wilson also said he discussed his complaints directly with FIFA President Gianni Infantino, consolidating financial and game design issues. “I said, ‘Look, money is one thing: we don’t want to pay more money than this license is worth,’ he reportedly said. “But it’s not about that, it’s really about our ability to deliver games and experiences that our fans want in a timely manner.”

Last October, EA filed a request European and British trademarks for “EA Sports FC”, suggesting a potential rebranding if FIFA licensing talks fail.