« The vintages Fifa, it’s like wine, there are good years and not so good. » Since 1997, the specialist magazine joystick predicted the ups and downs of the long career to come for this series of successful video games. That year, the journalist opposed « the picket » FIFA 97 to « good vintage » FIFA 98: Road to the World Cup.
Declined at the sustained rate of one episode per year since 1993, the Electronic Arts (EA) franchise faces a permanent challenge: to reuse the same recipe each year while maintaining the attention of the public.
His career of nearly thirty years, however, reveals some major turning points that tell both the evolution of the video game medium as well as the irresistible success of this license, each variation of which has been at the top of annual sales in France since 2014.
But the year 2022 is that of an unprecedented turn for Fifa : that of the loss of his name due to a financial disagreement between the publisher and the International Federation of Association Football (FIFA). On this occasion, a look back at nine key episodes that transformed Fifa.
1990s: The Outsider
- « FIFA International Soccer” (1993): first goals
When it was released in December 1993 on Megadrive, Fifa is immediately acclaimed for its technical realism: « real game tactics in the cartridge », enthuses the specialized magazine PlayerOne. The efforts made on the soundtrack and the character animations also allow for more immersion than the competition. “I had never seen such a range of movements for a simple player”, notes the journalist joystick when released on PC.
This success in Europe is a total surprise for EA, which is more focused on American football (Madden) or ice hockey (NHL). “Internally, people didn’t even know what FIFA was”entrusted to World in 2015 Marc Aubanel. The one who was the first producer of the series explains that the American publisher decided in particular to risk it because of the organization of the World Cup in the United States in 1994.
- “FIFA Soccer 96”: entering modernity
Far from being the most successful episode, the third Fifa is nevertheless decisive for the DNA of the series. For the first time, thanks to an agreement with the International Federation of Professional Football Associations (Fifpro), the simulation uses the players’ real names. Before that, developers attached fanciful or vaguely evocative names to athletes and teams. FIFA 96 achieves another major change by offering, for the first time, 3D graphics.
- “FIFA 98”: world champion… of virtual football
In December 1997, the French team was not yet world champion but FIFA 98: Road to the World Cup (and a few months, its quasi-twin, the game World Cup 98) stands out as one of the heights of video game football of the 1990s. An opus that bets on immersion with 6,400 football players, 172 national teams, 189 clubs, 11 leagues and, for the first time, virtual replicas real stadiums. Match commentaries made by professionals, Thierry Gilardi and David Ginola for the French version, find their place for the first time in the simulation. Finally, its pop soundtrack marks the spirits. It contains the heady Song 2 of Blur which is to 1990s rock what FIFA 98 is in video games: a classic.
2000s: the clash with PES
- “FIFA 2001”: offside
On the technical side, FIFA 2001 is a pioneer because it offers online matches on PC for the first time. This device is essential today. But playfully, the legacy is weak. The purists then prefer him ISS Pro Evolution 2 (2000), the last episode of the competing series International Superstar Soccer, launched in 1994 by the Japanese studio Konami. A formidable rivalry therefore arises between Fifa and ISS, has become in the meantime Pro Evolution Soccer (ESP).
The latter is gradually asserting itself as » a “pure and hard” simulation [qui] reproduces as closely as possible to reality the gestures, techniques and rhythm of a real football match », as noted The Parisian in 2006, unlike the “ease of approach” of Fifa. For a good half dozen years, the popularity of Fifa flutters, while ESP steals its place in the hearts of gamers.
- “FIFA 09”: successful transition to HD
FIFA 08 already, the first episode designed for the PlayStation 3 generation, began a revival for Fifathanks to a new game engine next to which that of ESP suddenly seemed quite clumsy. FIFA 09 confirms this shift, and allows EA’s game to gradually regain its leading position in football simulation. “An intimidating vintage”, written at the time Geneva Grandstand. « FIFA has moved upmarket, offering an even more authentic simulation,” analyze it New York Times.
FIFA 09 also take risks. It offers the integration of ten against ten online games and a mode in which you can only play a single character in a team. EA also integrates the virtual card game Football Ultimate Team (FUT)whose embedded microtransactions generate significant revenue.
From the 2010s: Ballon d’Or
- « FIFA 2017 »: forward the stories
By offering ever finer control of the ball, FIFA 10, 11, 12 and 13 establish their dominance and are still today, according to ratings aggregator Metacritic, among the most popular episodes upon their release. But how to enrich a formula considered almost perfect? After adding the female teams in the previous episode, FIFA 2017 ventures on the side of fiction. This very scripted « Story » mode offers to follow the journey of the character of Alex Hunter over several years.
Always more appealing visually and varied in terms of content, FIFA 17 is a triumph in store. It established itself as the best-selling console game in the world in 2016, crushing in passing Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare, from Activision.
- “FIFA 20”: the escape from confinement
The confinements linked to the Covid-19 pandemic put a stop to football matches. The practice of online football then goes far beyond the practice of sport. FIFA (the federation) finds itself in an unthinkable situation: the rights paid for the exploitation of the license (158 million dollars) become that year its first source of income.
FIFA 20 attracts more players than ever (25 million unique players, according to EA). Above all, FIFA Ultimate Team, a variant in which you compose your team with the players found in virtual surprise bags, is becoming more popular than the basic game mode. Since then, Belgian justice has forced the publisher to block purchases in real currency in WAS, principle which it equates to games of chance. Other legal proceedings against him have been launched in Canada, the United States, France and the Netherlands.
A 30-something who changes his name
- “EA Sports FC”: first of the name
From 2023, those who used to « get a little FIFA » will have to change their habits. According to the New York Timesthirty years after its launch, the simulation will change its name after the Women’s World Cup to be held in Australia and New Zealand.
The heated discussions that this announcement was already causing online months before the official announcement revealed that Fifa is much more than just a video game: it has risen to the rank of icon of popular culture, quoted in rap songs or hijacked in memes.
Lovers of digital football can be reassured: there is a good chance that for the most part, the 2023 vintage will change very little. Indeed, the end of the partnership with FIFA does not condemn it to losing the use of the names of the players, ensured by a contract with Fifpro renegotiated in 2021, or of the various championships, negotiated with their organizers. Only the World Cup and events specifically organized by FIFA should disappear from the game.