For thirty years, FIFA has been the name of the greatest saga of sports titles in video game history. Until today. The paths of FIFA and Electronic Arts separate. But instead of wondering why this collaboration ended, why don’t we look back to witness how it all began?
It’s official. As we have already reported in 3DJuegos, Electronic Arts has decided not to continue renewing the FIFA license, so from next year its star saga will be called EA Sports FC. Apart from the fact that FIFA itself has stated that they will continue the series on their own, the news is one of the biggest news milestones in recent years. And it is that, since its original launch in 1993, and without counting spin-offs, EA Sports has developed twenty eight different video games with this name. Between deliveries and platforms, some two hundred different versions have passed through the market, which have sold more than three hundred million copies together. The FIFA saga is the quintessential brand of the sports genre and has broken all the records that have been and will be.
However, despite being recognized throughout the world, this sports saga was not always planned with this name. In fact, at first names like EA Soccer or Team USA Soccer were considered. Names that horrified the modest development team of the first FIFA. Among other things because its objective, at all times, was the European market. Its purpose was to compete against titles that were successful in Europe such as Kick Off or Sensible Soccer, emulating in the old continent the success in the United States of the first great EA Sports saga: John Madden Football (whose creator has starred in a million-dollar lawsuit, which It had precisely made history that year 1993 by obtaining, after half a dozen different deliveries, the official rights of the NFL league. Thanks to that deal, the series was able to start using the names and uniforms of the North American league teams, so that from then on had a powerful claim for fans of this sport.
Electronic Arts already had a lot of experience in these matters at that time. In 1989, for example, they had published Lakers versus Celtics and the NBA Playoffs, the most distant ancestor of NBA Live and the first official video game of the American basketball league. And since as early as 1991, each year they have continued to regularly release new installments of the NHL Hockey series, the official video game of the North American ice hockey championship. The development team of the first FIFA, made up of barely a dozen developers, didn’t want anything that their colleagues didn’t have. They aspired to use the real names of teams and players of the European leagues. Something that nobody had achieved until then, because even megatons of the stature of Kick Off 3: European Challenge could only reproduce the colors of those clubs and little else. Nor could they use their logos, much less reproduce the names of their players.
The first title could not reproduce neither the names of the players nor the logos of the teamsAs they would soon discover, if it hadn’t been done before, it wasn’t for lack of desire. Not that anyone had tried to have the official backing of the European leagues. Many tried without success. At most, some studios were able to publish titles with the name of some football star, like in Spain the mythical Michel Fútbol Master or Emilio Butragueño ¡Fútbol!, but nothing more. The reason was very simple: the NFL or the NHL are leagues of a single country, while in Europe there is a hodgepodge of different federations and championships, from the Premier to the Spanish League. So the executives of Electronic Arts decided to cut to the chase and turn to the largest international association dedicated to football: FIFA.
The first FIFA in its SNES version
Its purpose was not only to baptize its title in honor of the main soccer federation in the world, in the tradition of the rest of EA Sports games, but also to acquire all the necessary image rights for such a purpose. So Tom Stone, one of the executives behind the project, flew to Switzerland personally to negotiate with FIFA. An agreement that was resolved, in the words of Stone himself, very diligently and economically, signing a contract that allowed them to use the name of the federation for at least five years. But the deal, as they later discovered, had a catch. While the Yankee associations usually manage, with exceptions, the image rights of clubs and players, the case of the old continent is very different. According to David Gardner, another of the Electronic Arts executives, “soccer was not organized in a commercial way like sports leagues in the United States.” Therefore, despite having the official name of FIFA, that first title could not reproduce neither the names of the players nor the logos of the teams.
The teams in the official leagues had to wait for the sequel, FIFA 95, and the names of the players to the subsequent FIFA 96. For this reason, that first FIFA International Soccer, as it was finally baptized, only included national teams, while all its Players had made-up names, if not from the developers themselves, that were placed on their favorite squads. It was an arduous negotiation process in which the Electronic Arts executive team had to negotiate personally with local federations and even with the clubs themselves. In part, Stone assures, that FIFA regulates all these aspects today, in the image and likeness of the North American associations, is thanks to his team and all his investigations.
The name FIFA thus transcended its original meaningThe rest is history. Thanks to the success of all those FIFA installments, its development team not only grew by leaps and bounds to become one of the largest studios in the world, but also continued to use the name of the Federation as its main claim. So for almost thirty years. Somehow, the name thus transcended its original meaning. For most fans, FIFA is not the name of the international football federation, but of the the most important sports saga of all time. Or it was until today. It is difficult to predict what will happen from now on. Will Electronic Arts be able to replicate its success under another name? And the next FIFA, without the support of their original team, will they manage to live up to it? The only positive thing about this story, to look for a bright side, is that we have lived through a historical moment that historians will talk about at length in a couple of decades.