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Why EA Sports FC Replaced FIFA: The Game-Changing Decision Explained

Why EA Sports FC Replaced FIFA

Why EA Killed FIFA?

This is the most popular sports video game in history. In total, FIFA has sold more copies than its two nearest rivals combined. When you think about football, you think about the games you see on TV. But actually, people spend far more time playing online than watching real football. On any given Sunday, 200 million games of FIFA are played across the world.

That’s a lot of time. And means a lot of business. Especially for those two. Electronic Arts. One of the largest video gaming companies in the world. Who made approximately 20 billion dollars just with the FIFA game over the last two decades. And FIFA. The governing body of football, one of the most powerful sports entities in the world, who made 150 million dollars per year just for being the namesake of the game.

It sounds perfect. Fans are united in their love for the game. EA and FIFA make billions in return. Until EA decided to kill the FIFA series. Which is why the latest version looks like this. FIFA – the game – is officially dead. But why change the name of your most successful product? Especially when the new name is far less catchy.

That would be like renaming Twitter after a random letter in the alphabet. More importantly, the FIFA name is now up for grabs. There is nothing stopping a rival from snapping up the license and releasing their own FIFA 24. At first sight, it looks like EA made a horrible mistake. But on closer inspection, it may have pulled off one of the best business decisions in recent history. Welcome to Athletic Interest, this is the story of how EA killed FIFA.


The history of EA’s FIFA begins with a huge ‘what if’ moment. The original name for the game was Team USA Soccer. Luckily, EA changed it to FIFA after making a licensing deal with football’s governing body in 1993. Although the bosses at EA were never fully convinced that football could translate properly into a video game, they gave the project to a small team in London with an equally small budget.

The team worked 16-hour shifts to bring the game to life. One developer was hospitalized with exhaustion. His child even called the head of EA to ask if his dad could come home.

The original game was nothing like modern FIFA. 2D players with no distinguishable features, fake names, and fake stadiums. It did, however, have no competitors and four big letters on the front of the box.

Within four weeks of its launch, FIFA International Soccer was the best-selling game of the year. The developers argue that this was because the game was unique. FIFA thinks its name gave the game authenticity, an argument that will become relevant later again.

EA’s success spawned competitors, the most notable being Goal Storm, which would later become Pro Evolution Soccer. The early 2000s were dominated by an arms race between these two titles. FIFA became known for its fun gameplay, while PES was more tactical and tough to master. For many, PES was the better game. In a different world, it would have been the topic of this video.

But a fundamental shift happened in the mid-2000s. As graphics improved, gamers started to look for the most realistic experience. For football fans, this meant playing with your favourite player in your favourite team in your favourite stadium. While one had spent time mastering the game engine, the other had closed licensing deals for every major league, team, and player. In one game, you could play with Manchester United, and in the other, it was Man Red.

These licensing agreements created a huge competitive advantage for EA. Here’s why. If you want to create your own football video game, you cannot simply use the logos of the clubs and the names of the players. They need to give you permission first, and usually, this permission—or license—costs a lot of money.

Not only did EA make these agreements with practically every league, club, and player, but some deals were exclusive. So PES and any other competitor were unable to copy and had to come up with the most ridiculous fake names for their games. Bayern was simply called ‘Rekordmeister’. Real Madrid was MD White, and Ajax ‘Museumplein’—after a famous place in Amsterdam. Don’t forget legendary players like Naldarinho and Roberto Larcos.

EA’s advantage became even clearer with the launch of Ultimate Team. They began to sell virtual player cards—a bit like virtual Panini stickers—that unlocked those players in the game. This has become one of the most addictive aspects of FIFA and contributes to almost 50% of the game’s income. PES was slow to replicate this. Even then, who wants to buy virtual cards of fake players and teams?

As FIFA grew, PES slowly died. FIFA 15 reached 18 million sales, while PES 15 couldn’t even hit 10% of that. So you could argue that FIFA’s success is all down to authenticity. And a big part of that was the name.

EA vs FIFA: The War Begins

But then why break-up? EA’s first naming-rights deal with FIFA was reportedly very cheap. But times have changed. FIFA operates the biggest team sports event in the world and manages huge commercial contracts. FIFA has re-negotiated its agreement several times. EA was paying 150 million dollars per year before the split. Each time EA paid because it understood the value of those four letters on the front. It added authenticity.

EA has long claimed it wants to put all of football inside the game. Adding the official badge of football is a key component. Also important: brand continuity. FIFA was a clear brand name. It is part of gamer vocabulary. Parents knew what to look for in the shops at Christmas. So FIFA saw dollar signs and decided to ask EA for double the previous amount. FIFA assumed that EA would want to keep the brand name at all costs. But this strategy backfired badly.

There had long been rumours that EA was considering a split because they felt limited by the agreement. EA wanted to introduce new features to the game, but FIFA often pushed back because they wanted to protect their brand. EA was keen to explore Web3 and Esports, FIFA…not so much. And what kind of Athletic Interest video would this be without Nike and Adidas playing their part?!

EA had long wanted to partner with Nike but was blocked because FIFA had an exclusive deal with Adidas. Signing with Nike was one of the first things EA did after the split. FIFA pushed and EA jumped. A risky move. Gianni Infantino was quick to promise to continue the FIFA series with another developer. A declaration of war to EA.

Why FIFA Lost

Suddenly, you had a battle of the giants: the world’s most influential sports organization vs a huge American tech company. And FIFA looked like the favorite. They are a powerful enemy—Netflix made full documentaries about that. They control the most popular sport in the world, make billions of dollars with that sport, and their bosses regularly meet with the world’s most influential leaders.

But while FIFA was obsessed with the value of its own name, it forgot where the true value of the video game lies: the realism. In EA’s agreement with FIFA, it didn’t actually get much more than the four letters on the front. The right to use player likenesses, team names, badges, and leagues all came from separately agreed deals. And this is where EA hit FIFA hard.

EA has an army of lawyers that work with individual leagues, clubs, agents, and player unions to lock down these agreements. Often, players don’t even realize that they have agreed to be included in the game. Zlatan Ibrahimovich once tweeted that he never consented to be in FIFA. EA was quick to remind him to look into his contract with AC Milan, which includes a clause allowing the club to sign away his image rights. Any player or team that joins the Premier League automatically signs away its rights to be included in EA games.

EA has built a complex web of licenses that would be incredibly expensive for someone else to replicate. In some cases, these agreements are exclusive. Even when PES was able to make agreements with the Premier League and the Bundesliga, exclusivity meant that only a few teams from each league were included in the game. The rest were still fakes. That’s exactly why EA isn’t scared if someone else picks up the FIFA name. They won’t have any licenses for what truly matters.

EA’s web of licenses also attracts new partners and traps the current ones inside. In economics, this is called the network effect. The more users join the same network, the more value the product has for each user, and the less sense it makes for a single user to leave the network. Clubs and leagues bundle their gaming rights into one package and sell the entire thing exclusively to EA.

This ensures that they get the maximum amount possible. And by now there is another thing. They also want to ensure that they continue to appear in the EA game because it’s the most popular. This guarantees exposure for them and their sponsors to hundreds of millions of people across the globe. Remember, people spend more minutes playing virtual football looking at the virtual kits than they watch the real ones.

The Future

EA probably wouldn’t have the biggest sports game on the planet without the FIFA name. It added authenticity at a time when the game had no fanbase. But EA has outgrown FIFA. While EA Sports FC will probably never be as catchy, it doesn’t need to be. The licenses are what create the authenticity that fans crave. Players, clubs, and leagues give themselves to EA because they also need the exposure. This creates a virtuous cycle where the two sides come to depend on each other for mutual benefit.

FIFA may have a brand name that it considers to be worth 300 million dollars, but without those licenses, it’s worth practically nothing. That’s probably why Infantino has revised his promise of a FIFA 24 to a FIFA 25. A change of one number, but the sign that FIFA may be regretting its split from EA.

So what do you think? FIFA is dead or long live FIFA?

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