Even the oldest partnerships in gaming can end in a messy divorce, and it seems like EA Sports and FIFA are taking the passive aggressive route of breaking things off. Recently, EA announced that they are exploring the possibility of renaming their annual football simulator, and now FIFA has announced that they are looking into expanding licensing to other companies in the gaming industry. Surely, the two are entirely unrelated, right?
EA's announcement came first, alluding to potential naming and licensing conflicts as a reason for their exploration of a rebrand. FIFA, the game series, has been the leading football simulator video game franchise pretty much since 1993's FIFA International Soccer. PES was a major competitor, but... well, we know how that turned out.
Now, Fédération Internationale de Football Association has released a separate statement, which very deliberately fails to mention EA directly in any capacity. Instead, it is a more general statement about the future of football in video games, and states that "it is clear that this needs to be a space that is occupied by more than one party controlling all rights."
We thought that was, you know, FIFA's entire deal as an association, being the one party controlling all rights, but don't let that stop them from getting in a few jabs. It's funny seeing two immense and wealthy companies behaving like a couple who aren't speaking to one another.
At the end of the day, how much of all this will actually affect fans and gamers? Not a lot, it seems. While EA's statement about the name change was speculative, it seems to be all but guaranteed - alongside FIFA's own statement, EA recently filed a trademark for 'EA Sports FC' which might be the name of their football sim going forward, and the company reached a separate agreement with the FIFPRO union granting them continued use of player's likenesses, club logos and other trademarked motifs.
FIFA also has some grand plans with their naming rights, it seems. The official statement throws around white-bread corporate speak like "FIFA will adopt a new commercial positioning in gaming and eSports to ensure that it is best placed to make decisions that benefit all football stakeholders," but there is definitely an underlying strategy here. The copious amount of references to eSports coming at a time where the PES-successor eFootball crashed and burned cannot be a coincidence.
We're going to guess the winds of business changed direction, and the Fédération Internationale de Football Association thinks it can hoover up more licensing money by stripping EA of it's exclusive access, following decades of highly profitable partnership. This just goes to show that the dollar reigns supreme for these large companies.
While the FIFA brand has massive pull, it remains to be seen just how exactly the association will go about marketing its naming rights to multiple companies simultaneously, and who exactly will jump at the opportunity. The world of video game football isn't particularly diverse, though we can see some manager games taking on the name instead of other sims - however things play out remains to be seen.
In any case, even for those of us with no interest in football sims or the barely distinguishable yearly releases of FIFA games inexplicably named for the subsequent calendar year might feel the slightest pang of some negative feeling - we won't go as far as calling it sadness - at such an establishment going away. New FIFA releases have become ingrained in gaming, and became one of those comfortable constants. If you can't rely on another FIFA game to launch each year, what can you rely on in this world anymore?