October 1st, 2021 marks the date that FIFA 22 is made available to play on all major gaming consoles. But EA’s latest sports title shows minimal signs of innovation.
Despite the FIFA franchise being labeled as “dying” for several years now, EA’s soccer video game franchise is still by far the best-selling sports video game franchise in the world. But while the total number of people playing the game has never declined, it’s clear that the FIFA community as a whole is not what it used to be. Viewership of FIFA has dwindled, as many of FIFA’s most popular YouTubers have seen their numbers shrink. Meanwhile, community websites that were once very active, like Futhead have fallen to irrelevance. With FIFA 22 appearing to follow EA’s tendency to do little more than reskin the previous title, this downward spiral may continue.
Eurogamer.net editor Wesly Yin-Poole describes the state of the game best— “FIFA 22, much like the last one, and the one before that, and the one before that – a game that would be so much better for the soul were it not dragged down by the clawing hand of capitalism.”
The “clawing hand of capitalism” presents itself in many different faces in the FIFA franchise. Perhaps the most obvious is EA’s reluctance to make FIFA free to play, and cross-platform unlike popular game titles like Call of Duty Warzone, and Fortnite amongst others. Instead, as always, EA has opted to make gamers fork out at least $60 to buy the “standard edition” of FIFA, and if they want beneficial add ons, $100 is the price for the “ultimate edition” of the game. To make matters worse for gamers and their wallets, the changes between FIFA 21 and FIFA 22 are negligible and could be made with regular updates, mimicking the aforementioned popular game titles, and saving millions of people money. Plus, it’s not like EA needs the retail from its customers, in its last financial year, EA made the majority of $1.62bn from in-game, gambling style purchases within the popular game mode, FIFA Ultimate Team.
Rumor has it that the next FIFA title, FIFA 23 will be free-to-play and cross-platform. But one has to wonder why they haven’t done that with FIFA 22, especially considering free-to-play/cross-platform has dominated the gaming market for years now.
Part of the reason why EA has gotten away with basically selling the same game every year for at least $60 is because of the lack of competition facing them. FIFA has had a tight grip on the soccer video game market, outselling its biggest competitor, Konami’s Pro Evolution Soccer (PES) every single year since 2002. Even more frustrating is that PES and FIFA have historically been competitive in terms of game-play quality, FIFA only maintaining its popular edge through licensing deals with professional soccer leagues and teams.
If FIFA is dying, PES is dead. Knowing this, Konami has made a major decision this year by rebranding their soccer video game title from PES to eFootball this year. This rebrand introduced a free-to-play, cross-platform format, exactly what many gamers called on EA to do with the FIFA franchise. While this move by Konami is brilliant and could give it a competitive edge, eFootball came out of development half-baked. Riddled with Cyberpunk-Esque glitches and errors, Konami has apologized for the failed launch and promised a patch this month. Unfortunately, even if eFootball’s update saves the game, FIFA is poised to remain the game of choice for sports gamers.
Lastly, and perhaps the most underappreciated aspect of FIFA’s decline is its inability to expand its market. FIFA has more or less had the same game modes every year for the past decade. The most notable change was the introduction of the game mode “Volta”, in FIFA 20. While Volta is promising, it hasn’t rivaled FIFA’s most popular game modes. It was, however, the first game mode to include customizable female avatars.
Speaking of EA including women in FIFA, lackluster is the only viable word to describe their efforts. It took until FIFA 16 for women to have any place in the game at all when FIFA introduced just twelve women’s national teams to the game. The addition was unimaginative and poorly marketed. Since then, FIFA has undergone six title changes and has barely improved its inclusivity towards women’s soccer fans and female gamers. FIFA 22 brings the most recent change regarding this, where gamers can now design their own female coaches. Meanwhile, the most popular game modes like Ultimate Team, career mode, and online seasons remain devoid of women’s soccer. With women’s soccer setting viewership records as recently as 2020, and as women make up for an increasing percentage of the gaming market, it’s almost like EA has no desire to grow their most popular sports title.
Ultimately, it comes down to the fact that they don’t have to, and back to the aforementioned “clawing hand of capitalism”. Proponents of the economic system suggest that capitalism promotes competition and therefore, quality. But FIFA and EA have been left without a worthy competitor, and without a significant gain in quality. Unfortunately, for many years, all EA has ever had to do is “just enough” to keep gamers sufficiently interested to buy their product, while the market of soccer-loving gamers is big enough to allow EA to largely ignore half of the population. Today FIFA 22 is just about as fun as any of its predecessors, but it’s not any more fun than them, and certainly not as inclusive as it should be.