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EA Sports officially ends FIFA partnership after 30 years of games

Doesn't quite have the same ring to it, but maybe that's just because it's new...
Enlarge / Doesn’t quite have the same ring to it, but maybe that’s just because it’s new…

EA Sports announced today that the soccer title it publishes in 2023 would be part of the new EA Sports FC brand, doing away with the FIFA name the series has used since the days of the Sega Genesis and Super NES. The announcement marks a significant break for one of the oldest and most popular continuous franchises in video game history.

“We’re thankful for our many years of great partnership with FIFA,” EA CEO Andrew Wilson said in a statement. “The future of global football is very bright, and fandom around the world has never been stronger. We have an incredible opportunity to put EA Sports FC at the heart of the sport, and to bring even more innovative and authentic experiences to the growing football audience.”

EA’s coming FIFA-less soccer game will still have “more than 300 individual licensed partners, giving players access to more 19,000 athletes across 700 teams, in 100 stadiums and over 30 leagues around the world.” Those partners include major international leagues like the Premier League, LaLiga, Bundesliga, UEFA, CONMEBOL, and more.

Aside from the name on the cover, the newly branded game will also be missing any official reference to the World Cup, the quadrennial international tournament run by FIFA. EA partnered with FIFA to release separate branded FIFA World Cup titles every four years from 1998 through 2014 and introduced a separate World Cup mode to its lucrative Ultimate Team digital card game for FIFA 14. That integration expanded to a wider World Cup update in FIFA 18.

Reports suggest FIFA 23—which will launch later this year as EA’s final game with the FIFA license—will further expand the World Cup mode and include the Women’s World Cup for the first time in franchise history. “Our final FIFA product will also include more game modes, features, teams, leagues, players, and competitions than any previous edition,” EA said in a statement.

A bitter divorce

EA’s split with FIFA isn’t exactly a surprise. The gaming mega-publisher publicly said it was “reviewing our naming rights agreement with FIFA” last October amid reports of clashes over exclusivity and licensing costs. And a February report suggested that Wilson told EA employees that the FIFA license has “precluded our ability to be able to branch into the areas that players want” in terms of gameplay.

Even the specific EA Sports FC branding isn’t a surprise; the term showed up in trademark filing last year, and VentureBeat journalist Jeff Grubb confirmed the name in a March chat with Giant Bomb.

Last year, The New York Times reported that FIFA was asking EA to double the $150 million the publisher was already paying annually for the rights to its brand name. Meanwhile, EA was reportedly beginning to question how much value the FIFA name brought its popular game franchise.

“Basically, what we get from FIFA in a non-World Cup year is the four letters on the front of the box, in a world where most people don’t even see the box anymore because they buy the game digitally,” Wilson reportedly told employees in a November all-hands meeting.

FIFA says it will continue its annual branded soccer video game releases without EA.
Enlarge / FIFA says it will continue its annual branded soccer video game releases without EA.

Perhaps in anticipation of today’s announcement, FIFA announced yesterday that it is already working with new partners on “non-simulation” soccer games that will launch later this year. That wording brings to mind Take-Two’s 2020 announcement of the return of the NFL2K franchise, which will get around EA’s exclusive license for NFL “simulation” games by offering “non-simulation football game experiences.”

But FIFA also says it is “engaging with leading game publishers, media companies, and investors in regard to the development of a major new FIFA simulation football game title for 2024.” The organization also says it will continue the convention of numbered annual FIFA game releases with its new partners.

“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,” FIFA President Gianni Infantino said in a statement Monday. “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.”

EA’s partnership with FIFA dates back to 1993’s FIFA International Soccer, which has been followed by annual releases every year as well as occasional spinoffs like FIFA Street. The only game series with a comparable unbroken annual streak of releases is EA’s Madden NFL franchise, which started in 1988 and will retain that branding despite John Madden’s death late last year.

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