Video games publisher Electronic Arts says it is going to stop making Fifa branded football titles. It is one of the most profitable brands in gaming history, but the cost of the licence was one reason why the decision was made to ditch the partnership.
EA will continue to make football video games, but from 2023 they will come under a new banner, EA Sports FC. Fifa says it plans to release its own rival games, saying: "The Fifa name is the only global, original title."
EA Sports made the first Fifa game in 1993 and has been in charge of the franchise ever since. While the gameplay mechanics and core modes of play will be similar to what players have come to expect in recent years, this change will likely see the title offer a broader range of other experiences, beyond just the ability to play.
David Jackson, vice president at EA Sports, explained that the studio thinks it's time to move in a different direction in order to build a "brand for the future". Although the details of those experiences are vague at the moment, it's fair to assume that being able to watch real-life matches, experience Fortnite style live in-game events and have access to a broader range of branded in-game items are the kind of things EA would like to be able to offer.
Jackson says: "The world of football and the world of entertainment are changing, and they clash within our product.
"In the future our players will demand of us the ability to be more expansive in that offering. At the moment, we engage in play as a primary form of interactive experience. Soon, watching and creating content are going to be equally as important for fans.
"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 experiences for players." The Fifa franchise has been so successful in part down to detailed licensing agreements, that allowed for accurate representations of team kits, players faces and stadia to be seen on screen.
Players have been able to play as Premier League teams like Liverpool for years whereas competing games like Pro Evolution Soccer, offered fictional teams like Merseyside Red. EA say they will continue to offer real-world experiences, having signed up 19,000 athletes, 700 teams, 100 stadiums and over 30 leagues for future games.
They include the Premier League, Bundesliga, La Liga and Uefa. However, the move means that games released to tie-in with the World Cup, such as Fifa: Road to World Cup 98, will no longer be made by EA.
There will be one final Fifa release, with this year's edition - Fifa 23 - on sale this autumn as usual. EA Sports FC will hit the shelves in late 2023.
EA is one of the games companies that has faced fan backlash over its approach to in-game purchases. No doubt some of the questions about their new franchise will surround the financial model and plans for monetisation, which are yet to be revealed.
The move is a gamble for EA, whose fortunes have been closely tied with Fifa for decades, and Jackson accepts that, saying: "It's a big moment for the organisation. Interactive football experiences have been central to what has made EA Sports successful over the last 30 years."
Making sure the majority of the millions of current Fifa players switch to the new title will be vital for the company to be able to maintain important licensing partnerships in the future. They are an essential part of its success.
Electronic Arts struck the last licensing deal with Fifa in 2013 and it has been reported that football's governing body had put the price of the licence up significantly - this time to more than $1billion dollars per four-year world cup cycle. When asked if moving away from Fifa was purely a financial decision, Jackson said: "It wasn't ultimately down to money" but accepted it did play a crucial role in the decision-making process.
"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. As part of that you consider whether or not your investment in one place is better or worse than an investment in another.
"On balance, over time, we felt that our investments were better suited in spaces that were most important to players, like the different experiences we can now build in the game. For our partners, it's the way we can welcome and engage them into a platform that talks to 150 million young football fans around the world."
In a long statement on its website, Fifa says it will launch new football video games developed with a range of third-party studios and publishers, providing more choice for football and gaming fans in the lead-up to the World Cup in Qatar and beyond. As well as launching new games during 2022 and 2023, Fifa says it is working with leading game publishers, media companies and investors to develop of a major new Fifa simulation game title in 2024.
Gianni Infantino, the President of Fifa says in the statement: "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 constant is the Fifa name and it will remain forever and remain the best."
EA Sports seem confident that their approach is right, with David Jackson saying: "Change is always going to be concerning for people at first."
"In terms of things that they'll miss, players will notice only two things: The name and a World Cup piece of content every four years. Outside of that, very little will change about the things they know, and love about the current Fifa products.
"Probably the easiest thing that we could have done would have been to maintain the status quo. Fifa has been an incredibly successful game over time, but there are moments when you need to consider what the future looks like and we feel like building our own brand is the best for us."