Fifa thinks they can create great sims without EA – but they should consider the fate of Championship Manager | Games

Jhey think it’s all over… it’s now. The lucrative corporate marriage that brought us 30 years of annual football simulations and made billions of dollars in the process is now over. Fifa and Electronic Arts (EA) have gone their separate ways. And now that the dust has settled on a day of frenzied press releases, hype and guarded interviews, what kind of challenges do the two entities face as they jostle to reclaim the future of the simulation of football for themselves?

Here’s my pretty sure bet: Fifa is going to have a tough time. Now freed from the exclusivity clause granted to EA, the company apparently has a range of “non-simulation” games expected this year by various developers. It’s likely that these will be casual titles, probably for smartphones, packed with micro-transactions and possibly aimed at the huge Asian multiplayer arena gaming market. If there’s a plausible Fifa: Clash of Teams game out there, maybe with some NFTs thrown in, you can bet someone is working on it.

2005’s Pro Evolution Soccer 5, which at the time truly rivaled EA’s Fifa games every year for the title of “best soccer game”. Photo: Konami

Fifa has claimed it will have a full Fifa football simulation in 2024, with chairman Gianni Infantino making the blustering promise that it will be ‘the only authentic and real game’ and ‘the best available for players and football fans’ . This is obviously ridiculous hubris, showing no understanding of modern video game development. EA’s titles represent the culmination of 30 years of sports simulation development with a huge, dedicated and hugely experienced team. Where else will Fifa find this kind of expertise?

It could partner with Konami’s Pro Evolution studio (especially given the rocky start to the latter’s current series, eFootball), but Konami hasn’t really challenged EA’s Fifa games in over a decade. At the same time, it’s hard to imagine another major established development studio in the world branching out into sports sims in such a short time.

What about 2K games? He has the respected NBA 2K license and his studio Visual Concepts has experience with basketball and American Football – this even worked on the Madden series in the mid-1990s, so there are some transferable skills here. But even then, creating the best soccer game available with barely two years of development time from a cold start? I do not think so.

If Fifa hopes to leverage brand recognition alone, they have another idea coming their way. In 2003, Championship Manager was one of the biggest brands in sports games. Published by Eidos Interactive and developed by Sports Interactive, it was an institution. But in 2003, the two companies went their separate ways, allegedly over differences over royalty negotiations and the fact that both wanted more control over the franchise. What happened next should be instructive for EA and Fifa.

Sports Interactive has signed a new publishing deal with Sega and purchased the rights to Kevin Toms’ vintage simulation brand, Football Manager. “The team in place at SI was the team behind the game, we had the database and we had spent the previous decade building the community,” recalls Miles Jacobson, CEO of Sports Interactive. “We were the ‘owners’ of all these things. And the sum of these is far greater than the mark even back when the internet wasn’t as ubiquitous as it is today.

Responsible for the championship.
A warning from history… Championship Manager. Photograph: public domain

“I would be lying if I said we never worried about it. We were confident, but not arrogant. It took a lot of work not only from us, but also from our partners at Sega.

Eidos, meanwhile, set up a new team, Beautiful Game Studios, to take over work on Championship Manager, no doubt thinking the brand would make up for the relative lack of experience. The resulting game, Championship Manager 5, was released a year late and riddled with bugs, and despite four subsequent iterations and a brief afterlife as a mobile game brand, the series never was. close to challenging Football Manager as a serious simulation. Whoever Fifa partners for the next “official” Fifa game, if the quality is not there, it is unlikely to succeed.

A screenshot of EA Sports Fifa 19.
Golden years? EA Sports FIFA 19. Photography: EA Sports

One thing is certain: it heralds the end of an era, not just for Fifa games but for the very idea of ​​selling big tentpole video games on yearly physical discs. Konami hasn’t had much success converting its Pro Evo series into a free service, but that won’t stop Electronic Arts from exploring live subscriptions for its future football games. There’s no doubt that the company has plans for a football metaverse, where the game sits alongside live matches, influencer shows and lots of expensive customization options.

Beyond the final whistle, this messy breakup is going to have ramifications that ripple across the industry. Sitting down for a game of soccer with your friends will never be the same again.

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