The Fascinating Dominoes Leading to EA’s Divorce From FIFA

The Fascinating Dominoes Leading to EA's Divorce From FIFA

Every week on my news roundup podcast Thanks for the Knowledge, I seek to have informational gaps filled from the games industry’s leading experts. This week, I was lucky to snag about half an hour of News Editor Imran Khan’s time to help me understand what the holiday season 2022 looks like now that Starfield and Redfall have been delayed.

You can also listen on Spotify or a bunch of other places.

Imran provided a ton of insight about this, of course, but I also couldn’t help asking him about the most personally intriguing bit of news from this week: EA’s public and hilariously messy divorce from FIFA, leading to a total rebrand of EA Sports’ most internationally lucrative and well-known franchise. I think EA is slightly underestimating how much “FIFA” is synonymous with their football (not ours, the rest of the world’s) games and I do honestly think it’ll lead to some market confusion, but Imran and I got a big laugh out of FIFA’s statements regarding the move.

Regarding EA’s decision not to renew their licensing deal with the massive international football governing board, FIFA President Gianni Infantino said:

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 FIFA name is the only global, original title. FIFA 23, FIFA 24, FIFA 25 and FIFA 26, and so on – the constant is the FIFA name and it will remain forever and remain THE BEST.

Gianni, buddy, this statement has the most desperate energy you could’ve possibly brought to being told EA wanted to see other people. FIFA’s license was expensive and simply didn’t bring enough actual value to the FIFA game franchise. This is because EA can easily secure licenses for club play, which is by far the more appealing aspect of the video games to the majority of the audience. Imran and I discussed how the FIFA license was integral to football’s pop-culture expansion into the United States in the 90s because club play was only blossoming here — most watching on TV from America knew more about the World Cup, FIFA’s premier event, until the internet and TV deals with major football leagues brought club play access to millions here.

Of course, we briefly touched on how EA Sports getting sued by the NCAA, the other football’s collegiate governing body here in the States, probably lead to the games megacorp’s comfort with going into business for themselves and working less with large license holders that are more trouble than they’re worth to them.

Ultimately, EA Sports is in a much better position with pivoting to EA Sports FC than FIFA is with whatever partnerships they’ll cobble together in the next few years. Everyone knows it. It all makes FIFA’s defiance that much funnier.

The whole discussion is great! You should listen to it. Something Imran said prompted me to make the following image. Links to sourced news articles and a partial transcript of this week’s episode are below!

ea sports dominoesImran had a great idea in this podcast so I made this image

Links:

John: My guest this week, wiped the floor with the competition on this week’s Arcade Pit over at Giant Bomb. Also stole the show on this week’s Nintendo Voice Chat over on IGN. I’m proud to welcome home in a victory lap: News Editor Imran Khan.

Imran: So the thing about the Arcade Pit, one is the two people we were going against are two of my best friends who promised to literally never let me forget it and they would actually- they joked about sending me a plaque every year if they won and they would have actually done it. So I had to win at all costs.

John: Yeah. And you did it. So what a week for you! It’s big. Congratulations. Imran, I want you to take out your crystal ball, ’cause I’m going to ask you about the future.

We learned a little bit about how the end of this year is going to shape up as well as the beginning of next year with some fiscal reports and some projections from some companies and also some delays. I want to start with two of the big delays that were really not big surprises, but I want to talk about them anyway, Bethesda delaying Starfield and Redfall.

Imran: Yeah. Those are the only things Microsoft has really announced for this year. (John laughs) So like they have a show in a month, so maybe they fill in the back of the year with that. But those were the two big things and Starfield was their big, heavy hitter last year at E3. That announcement with a very confident date slipping either means they weren’t really ever that confident or that game is much more of a mess than we think it is, which according to Schreier and what he was saying about what he had talked about with Bethesda people last year that they think that game would have been a Cyberpunk-style disaster if it released at that time. (John: “That’s so wild.”)

So yeah. Maybe it’s for the best, but I feel like there’s probably two factors with Starfield specifically: one is Bethesda is not just answering to themselves anymore. Now they have to- they can’t release the same janky-ass game again. They have to put some- especially if it’s a centerpiece of a console holiday, they can’t do another Fallout 4 that is just “oh, it’s just charmingly broken.”

Especially with where Microsoft has been with those things where a lot of games are just when they’re broken, they’re broken for a long time.

John: They’re broken forever. Yeah. That’s the big problem. Yeah, but congrats to Bethesda for being around long enough to witness another company fucking up so bad that now they’re not the ones that are expected to release something buggy enough to get taken off of shelves or whatever.

Imran: Yeah. Cyberpunk really changed the calculus for a lot of developers. Like the Prince of Persia remake that recently got moved to Ubisoft Montreal. When that first got delayed, the thing that people told me then was, “yeah, this thing is good. We were gonna release this, but it’s so bad that Cyberpunk would have looked good in comparison.

So I think that is at least pressuring developers to stay away from retail shelves. If they can’t get something that is passably good.

John: Yeah. And then for Redfall, that’s an Arcane joint, that’s a Harvey Smith joint. They announced this at the same time that’d be moving away from its release date. We had not really seen anything from this, so that’s, that was even less of a surprise to me.

Imran: Yeah, that game was supposed to launch this year, but they haven’t shown- like even the initial CG trailer, from what I understand is misleading because it pretends it’s like a Left 4 Dead style game-

John: Yeah that’s how it looks! It looks like a big, like co-op kind of thing. And apparently it’s not necessarily that.

Imran: Yeah, what they’re actually crafting is like a Destiny style game with vampires, but they haven’t really said or shown that yet. So I imagine that kind of game is taking a lot longer than they think it will.

And they say pushed to Spring 2023. We’ll see, I feel like maybe summer, maybe, even as far as Fall next year, but again, we haven’t seen enough of the game to really say. Internal tests for that game, as far as I know, have been pretty good. We’ll see when that thing actually shapes up to be.

Yeah. I was not surprised it got delayed. I am a little surprised that they didn’t pair that delay with some footage, but again, they have a show next month.

John: (laughs) Yeah, they do. And that show next month might help us fill in the answer to this question, but, in a world- in an industry where I am just very used to every single major company having a tentpole project that comes out in the holiday season. XBox’s holiday 2022 is empty, really empty right now. Do you think they fill that gap with something or are we maybe seeing a shift away with their whole approach to Game Pass and everything?

Are we maybe seeing a shift away from them caring about brute software sales in the holiday season?

Imran: I don’t think it was any one decision that probably led to this. It was probably a combination of a different- like Game Pass, I’m sure, almost certainly factored in: “okay. We’ll have something.”

The worst case scenario is they can probably throw money at some big game to put that on Game Pass as maybe an exclusive for a little while, but probably just like it’s on Game Pass here and it’s $70 elsewhere. Just buy it or play it here. But I think. That combined with they- they didn’t rush Halo.

Halo got delayed, but the game they put out in December last year, I think was not complete. It was not the game they wanted to put out. I think that game probably needed another six months, especially when you look at how the multiplayer rollout has been. By their own admission, botched.

And how if you play the single player, there’s clearly areas that should be like things that just aren’t, and I don’t know if those are DLC or just not done or whatever. But I think that game had to come out when it did, because it absolutely did have to come out last holiday without argument that maybe convincing them let’s just wait for these things to be done.

I think that’s all we can do. It also probably doesn’t hurt that Sony is also similarly anemic this holiday, like they probably have God of War. That is a game that they- (John: “You don’t think that’s gonna be moved?)

The producer recently tweeted again that like it is coming out 2023- or 2022 I should say,

John: (very skeptically) Okay. All right!

Imran: (also low key skeptical) We’ll see!

John: On April 20th, he released a video which I had not remembered that he did until this past week. And then I watched the whole thing. He basically was like, “we will show you when we’re ready!” this was like three weeks ago. This doesn’t sound like a game that’s close to being done, but I don’t know, like maybe I should just shut up and let’s see what happens, but yeah. Anyway, keep going with your point,

Imran: We’re in a weird thing now where I think Sony is realizing that the 10, 12 month marketing cycle is just recklessly expensive. Because as an example, Nintendo marketed Metroid Dread for four months, like from announcement to release. And that game sold three million copies, which is not insane, but for Metroid, it’s the best selling Metroid game ever.

Do you need to do a year of marketing or can you just do the yearly show and be like, this is what’s coming out in the next couple of months. Here’s a State of Play. I don’t think they need to- and I think one of the things that probably does- circling back to Microsoft- one of the things that’s probably factoring into the decision to delay those two games is: Forza Motorsport, the simulation one, is probably releasing this year. As far as it, everyone knows that it is still intended for this year. That’s probably gonna do a lot of heavy lifting in terms of sales and Game Pass subscriptions. So I suspect that they think they can just go: “we have a games as a service, we’ll ride it out a little bit.”

Presumably Halo is going to right the ship a little bit. They will at least fix the problems people are having with it. Theoretically? So, yeah, I think it’s a number of different things coalescing that are letting them go: “We don’t want to do this, but if we have to do that…” Like maybe Avowed shows up, maybe Josh Sawyer has been talking about a new game for a while.

Maybe that’s going to happen here.

John: Yeah, that makes sense, but holiday 2022 looks like a big Nintendo-heavy season. So we’ve got summer stuff leading into Splatoon, leading into Pokemon, so yeah, that’s just a big period for exclusives from Nintendo.

You brought up Metroid Dread. I don’t want to totally get away from our future conversation yet, but I did want to ask you because you posed a good question on Twitter this past week. Now that we know that Metroid Dread sold three million copies and Metroid Prime 4 is in this unbelievable worst-kept-secret holding pattern of like- it’s been rebooted and basically rebuilt from the ground up. At least once it feels like more than that. And you asked, is Metroid Prime 4 going to sell better than Metroid? And I said, yes. Where do you fall on that?

Given how, yes this is the best Metroid has ever sold, but it’s still not like blowing the doors off of anything?

Imran: Yeah. Like it’s been less than a year for Metroid Dread so it’s not easy to compare it to say Breath of the Wild, but Breath of the Wild sold. It also broke records for the Zelda series that has sold 25 million copies at this point.

So like it’s difficult to- or 28 million, I should say. It’s difficult to compare those directly. And obviously we shouldn’t, but Prime 4 is a similar- “vanity project” is maybe not the right word, but a project that they’re clearly pouring a lot of money into. And maybe assuming that it’s not going to make all that money back, like it’s one of those things.

It’s a tent pole release that is to sell systems more than it is to sell games. So we’ll see how that ends up shaking out. I suspect it is almost guaranteed to sell better than Metroid Dread if only based on camera angle and genre, (laughs) but if it doesn’t that’s alarming. And if it doesn’t, it’s probably because that game is going to be like in that situation that it does not- it would probably be because that game is bad.

I don’t think it will be either of those things. I think Nintendo generally knows when a project is- especially a high budget project- isn’t going to make it like in terms of quality, but we’ll see, it’s also been a very quick-selling product in general, where, like you said, it was made once. They rebooted the development.

It’s now back at Retro, who is not the same Retro they were when they made Metroid Prime, but also they still probably are a very talented group of people who made one of the best 2D platformers of all time a decade ago at this point. But, I would hope it is a great game that sells well, but you’d never really know.

We have no idea. It does not have the problem. Metroid Dread has where Metroid Dread is a game that- a genre that has flooded the market at very cheap alternatives. So you can get- Metroid Dread is three times the price of Hollow Knight, which is- I love Metroid Dread- Hollow Knight is a better game.

John: Yeah, for sure.

Imran: So like Metroid Prime, technically the same genre, but production value matters to people. So I think people will more easily swallow that $60. Also it’s probably not launching alongside a more expensive version of the Switch where you have to make the calculus of: “do I want the more expensive switch or do I want another lease expensive Switch and another game?

So Switch OLED was a Switch plus an extra copy of Metroid or whatever, which I think does factor into people.

John: That makes sense. Yeah, it’ll be interesting to see whenever we finally get our hands on Metroid Prime 4 in 2027 or whatever on the Nintendo Switch Two and a half. Let’s talk about EA because they had some stuff come out this week.

They had an investor relations presentation this week. They announced four totally untitled games that will come out in Q4. That’s their fiscal Q4. So that’s at the beginning of 2023. They just call them “remake,” “major IP partner title” and “sports title.” Now we think maybe- and as we got some confirmation this week of the release date, we know what that remake is now.

So tell us about that.

Imran: So the remake, and it’s weird that they did this, this way because one- so the remake is Dead Space. A game that they have announced that they have previously said targeting early 2023. So that’s not shocking, but when they went to the financials, like we’re not ready to say what these games are yet.

So they just called it “remake.”. The only remake they have announced is Dead Space. So yesterday, two days after the quarter financials came out, they just said: “yeah, Dead Space is coming January 27th, 2023″ which is- fair play to them. Not something I believed when they announced it earlier.

So good for them to actually do it. We can cross remake off the list unless they have something else there, but it will be weird that they didn’t label Dead Space then. The major IP is almost certainly a Jedi Fallen Order or as Jeff Grubb has said, it’s called Jedi Survivor now? Which they’ve announced before they haven’t said the title.

So I guess that’s the reason- they could have said “Star Wars game” but that’s almost certainly probably going to hit early 2023. “Partner title” is probably an EA Partners game. I’ve heard they have renewed vigor for that initiative recently because of how well It Takes Two did. It Takes Two was a critical and sales success for them to the point where I think certainly that Hazelight’s next game, they’re pouring a ton of money into. But it’s a rising tide lifting all boats here where other EA partner titles have had their budgets increased- have had their, like they’ve had more help and attention and all that stuff.

So whatever this partner title is, maybe it’s not going to flop the way EA Partners titles generally do.

John: Yeah. Yeah. Maybe so. And then sports, we think that might be a UFC game. I thought that was a good guess on your part. Because their sports games simply come out at the beginning of seasons and UFC doesn’t have a season, so it can come out at any time.

(sarcastically) But since you’re such a big sports fan, Imran, I’m going to switch gears for a second. Also with EA, though, this week- they finally announced the split officially between them and FIFA, their partner for their license, soccer games for the past, I don’t know, however many years. 20 years? Something like that?

And one: FIFA released some really fucking funny take- like a statement about this…

Imran: It was Trumpian. It literally seemed like a Trump tweet in a press release form.

John: (laughs) They said something like “FIFA is going to make games with another partner and they’re going to be the best games.” Then there’s just- I think a use of all caps in a couple of places. It’s really wild. Y’all should definitely go find the statement because it’s really funny. EA is going to switch the FIFA title to EA Sports FC, which is almost certainly just going to get shortened colloquially to FC because no, one’s going to fucking say EA Sports every time.

What do you think this does to this franchise? Because it’s one of the biggest selling franchises in the world.

Imran: My initial read on it was like, oh, I guess EA and FIFA are like fighting over licensing prices and stuff like that, but like reading more into it, man, FIFA made just like a fucking stupid decision here!

This is one of the dumbest decisions I’ve seen a major organization do. FIFA seems to believe that the sales of FIFA games are because of the FIFA name, which I think does not bear out. I think that their plan is to license that to whoever wants it basically. And I think if they try to give that to Konami or somebody in like people buy that game as FIFA 2023 or whatever, they’re going to see oh, this game isn’t nearly as good. This is not what I remember. This does not have FIFA Ultimate Team, or if it does, they have a shittier version of it. I suspect there’ll be a year transition where the FIFA game will sell well, and the EA FC game will not. And then the next year it’ll probably just bring back closer into balance because I think people are going to be initially confused by the box.

People look at the EA Sports logo, if they didn’t, they wouldn’t emblazon on top of every like Madden and PGA Tour and all that stuff. And they know, oh, this is the game I like, this is the game I have played before. And I know it’s not a shitty knockoff game. The fact that NBA 2K22 or 2K21 or whatever, got like fucking pulled from shelves because they thought the game was so bad, it would damage the EA Sports program.

John: Yeah. NBA Live 2020 or whatever.

Imran: Right. They clearly know that brand is important to people. That it means something to somebody buying the game. There’s always going to be like the uninformed consumer that buys just off the title.

But I think people are going to quickly key in and clue in, or- we’re in a different world than we were even 10 years ago where someone will go “Hey, why is this FIFA game so bad?” And then someone will answer them on Facebook or Reddit or social media and just say “Yeah it’s because EA used to run it and now they don’t. This is the game you actually want.”

John: The only thing that I think is interesting and I don’t think it can happen fast enough for it to make a difference in the market. But if FIFA decided to call Konami and say “Hey, we saw that you made eFootball and it was really fucking bad, but you all used to make soccer games called Pro Evolution Soccer that were actually pretty good comparisons to FIFA.”

“What if we just attach the FIFA name to those and basically confuse the market for a couple of years?” I don’t think that’s going to come together fast enough. I also don’t think Konami’s model is such that they want that right now. They want the free to play eFootball kind of thing, even though they fucked it up hugely the first time around.

So it’ll be interesting. And also for folks that don’t know, the FIFA license basically gives EA the kind of the carte blanche to have the kind of international team play like, so like you would see in the world cup or whatever. I believe that FIFA is attached to the [idea] that providing that value is from literally 20 years ago when soccer was attempting to infiltrate markets outside of Europe, outside of South America. Where like in North America, where a ton of money is, wasn’t attached to club play in soccer because they didn’t have a meaningful club system like they do in Europe. So like FIFA was an entry point to get people to watch world cup games and go “oh, this is soccer! This is interesting. Sure. I’ll pick up this game because that’s what I’m seeing.” Now that it’s 2022 and people in America have access to the fucking Champions League and all these other things that they know, that license is fucking meaningless. Like all they need are the club licenses for these big teams out in Europe and South America. And in Asia, like that’s what people give a shit about in earnest.

And so FIFA acting like that this license is the thing driving value instead of just being synonymous with the actual fucking game, which EA could basically change at any moment. Anyway, I’m digressing, but it’s this is so fucking funny to me, that FIFA decided to keep their prices apparently super high enough that EA was let’s do the math on this and say, no, because it’s going to be easy for us to switch gears.

Imran: That meme of a guy setting up dominoes with a giant domino at the end? Like this one is: EA gets sued by college football players at the end, it’s like EA realizes that they don’t have to deal with the actual consortiums at the end of it. They can just deal with the individual teams and get all this done on their own.

John: Yeah, because they’ve got enough people on those teams- on biz dev teams and all that stuff to make this stuff happen without the huge conferences. So yeah, it’ll be interesting to see how it works out in the market. I guess this is going to be the last year of a FIFA titled game.

I cannot wait to see how they market the latest FIFA. If that’ll be any different, if we’re going to set the table for what comes next, it’ll be interesting to see.

Imran: If I were EA I would put the EA Sports FC logo everywhere in that game.

John: I would too.

Imran: I dunno if FIFA is going to let them, but if I were them and that’s a thing they are legally allowed to do, I would make sure that thing is on every single menu so that people suddenly start like- “oh this is basically just FIFA!”

John: At the very least, what I would do is: six months into the shelf life of that game, start to patch in those logos. I bet FIFA won’t let them do it, but I bet six months, nine months in, it won’t be as big of an issue or something, but it’ll be interesting to see. I think it is a bigger marketing challenge than EA is probably letting on just because I do think it’s been such a shorthand for what that game is for the past two decades.

But I also agree that it’s basically a functionally useless thing to have in the game so they could make do without it.

Imran: I think as a company, EA is slowly starting to realize that like the last five or six years have been coasting for them. Like they’ve been coasting on EA Sports and now they’re trying to finally start figuring themselves out a little bit.

Like the recent investor call, they’re more or less relying on [Vince] Zampella for everything. He is now the head of Battlefield and they basically threw the old Battlefield leadership under the bus, by saying “we finally have good leadership there.” (John laughs) Like they’re making a lot of bets that hopefully will pay off, but they’re also putting a lot of chips on individual people. That if these things don’t pay off, if these people leave, then the whole house of cards falls down.

So we’ll see how it works out. Like they- they got a game of the year last year. That’s not nothin’.

John: Yeah. That’s not nothing. That’s true. All right, Imran. I’m going to let you go. I know you got to get ready for next week when you go on six other podcasts or game shows and kill it for us. But yeah, I hope you have a good weekend coming up.

Imran: You too. Thanks for having me.

John: Yeah, of course.

Author: Deann Hawkins