By the early 90’s EA Sports was already dominate the world of sports video games with franchises like Madden, NHL and their various NBA titles. However the video game giants had yet to have much success on the other side of the pond, with their American based sports games not selling well in European markets. What the company needed was a game that would appeal to Europeans who had little to no interest in America sports. The answer was a football game that would go on to become one of their leading franchises, even outpacing the Madden series in video game sales.
“FIFA is now one of EA Sports most profitable annual franchises, the company in the early days predicted that the game would be a complete flop.”
In the early stages of planning and development for the game, EA’s UK based team went looking to recruit some locally based developers to help them build out some prototypes. A pair of developers from Cheshire, Jules Burt and Jon Law had been working on a football game prototype experimenting with various camera angles. Most other football games at the time such as Sensible Soccer or Kick Off! featured a top down view. The developers of the then titled EA Soccer wanted to create a game that would stand out from the rest. Despite the promising start the executives at EA stateside, were less convinced and didn’t put much faith into the success of the project. The development was shifted to EA Canada who took the early prototypes and built upon them implementing an isometric view for the game. A key selling point for the game was to rest on the realism that they could build into the gameplay and graphics. However just like previous EA Sports titles it also relied on the licensing deals that could be negotiated for teams and player names. This proved to be a problem as unlike the NFL, FIFA didn’t hold the licences for individual players and teams or the various domestic leagues. EA had secured a licencing deal with FIFA but it was all but the name included. Resulting in no real player names featuring in the game, instead the developers used their names to fill out the team roosters.
“The licensing deal with FIFA didn’t give the developers any of the rights for the teams and players but it did give it the brand recognition which it has maintained over the last two decades.”
Just as the development started the US EA executives had tried to shutter development over fears of potential loses in revenue, this trend continued throughout the development process. Both the Canadian and UK based developers had to continually convince their bosses that the game would sell well, as there was a large European market that had yet to be capitalized on. They argued that with the FIFA name behind them that there would be instant brand recognition, which would help boost sales. The game managed to get to market despite the best efforts of the EA executives and would end up proving them wrong for having their initial misgivings about sales figures. The game sold nearly half a million copies within its first month of launch and blew all expectations away. Becoming the bestselling game of 1993 despite the fact it was only launched in December of that year. The studio was soon back to work on the next title and over the last twenty years has managed to build up one of the most successful video game franchises. The FIFA series selling more than 100 million copies combined, earning it the title of best-selling sports video game.