Electronic Arts (EA) and FIFA are looking to part ways after a decades-long run of dominating the eSports gaming industry. Since 1993, the EA Sports FIFA series has been the most successful soccer simulation that the video game industry has ever seen. In fact, according to Forbes, the FIFA series is the best selling sports video game franchise of all time, selling around 325 million units since its first installment. The FIFA series has been so successful that FIFA itself reported a larger licensing income — much of which it attributed to the series — than income from actual soccer in 2020. So why the split?
EA has dominated the sports gaming industry since the late 1980s, producing sports simulation titles like Madden NFL, FIFA, PGA Tour Golf, and NHL. However, licensing deals with singular leagues like the NHL and the NFL seem to be much more straightforward and easier to maintain than the licensing required to produce a game with FIFA. According to General Manager of EA Sports Group Cam Weber, EA has to work with over 300 individual licensed partners to work with over 700 teams and their accompanying players, stadiums, and kits — you get the idea.
Compare this licensing situation to the NFL, for example. In an interview with Forbes, Vice President of EA Sports DJ Jackson stated that the only two parties involved in licensing are the NFL and the NFL Player’s Association. The licenses for teams, players, logos, and everything else are centrally controlled by these two organizations. The same article discusses how, by contrast, FIFA licensing is much more varied and creates much more of a headache.
This unique licensing situation is the main reason that EA and FIFA are considering a split. Current knowledge on the situation from The New York Times suggests FIFA is seeking over double the amount of revenue from the games than the amount they were receiving before the dispute. EA can afford to refuse this deal because of soccer’s global nature. EA can retain many of their rights to depict clubs and players; they would only be unable to use FIFA’s name in their products. This would mean that any future installments of EA’s series under a new name would be theoretically much the same and feature most of the same clubs, players, and leagues — although the FIFA world cup would be noticeably missing.
Having played FIFA games for many years myself, I can imagine that gamers would not notice much change. The systems, graphics, and gameplay that EA has developed over the years are what make fans continue to buy the games year after year, and these elements have nothing to do with FIFA. I think if the split were to happen, FIFA would have extreme difficulty finding another way to create a video game series as lucrative as the one they have with EA.
However, one catch of the split on EA’s side is that they would need a new name for the series. The word ‘FIFA’ is now used more as a reference to the game series than to the global organization it’s named after; it would be difficult to find another name short enough, memorable enough, and iconic enough to replace it. The New York Times reports that EA is already creating patents in Europe for something called “EA Sports F.C.” Whether this new name will have the same staying power and will become a part of the sports gaming lexicon as ‘FIFA’, only time will tell.