It’s all in the game

Re­lease of FIFA 18 shows how far the se­ries has come

Global Times - Weekend - - SPORTS - By Jonathan White

For mil­lions of soc­cer fans, the big­gest day of their sea­son took place this past Fri­day with the of­fi­cial launch of the FIFA 18 video game. Many of them had al­ready got hold of the game through down­load­able demos, pre-or­dered spe­cial edi­tions or, in some cases, queu­ing out­side the store for mid­night openings. Those who do get their hands on a copy can pick from over 700 full-li­censed club and na­tional teams, with women’s na­tional teams again in­cluded as they have been since

FIFA 16, and a va­ri­ety of game modes that go well be­yond recre­at­ing the leagues and cups of the real world.

It’s all a far cry from the re­lease of the first in the se­ries, FIFA In­ter­na­tional

Soc­cer, back in the run-up to Christ­mas 1993. The game was cre­ated by Elec­tronic Arts (EA) as the first soc­cer game in their EA Sports se­ries, which al­ready in­cluded Amer­i­can foot­ball (the Mad­den se­ries, be­gin­ning in 1988), golf (PGA Tour, 1990) and ice hockey

(NHL Hockey, 1991). De­vel­oped by Ex­tended Play Pro­duc­tions, now known as EA Canada, the first game continued with the of­fi­cially li­censed model of other EA Sports ti­tles but the 48 playable na­tional team ros­ters are all pop­u­lated by fic­tional names, in­clud­ing star play­ers bear­ing the names of mem­bers of the de­vel­op­ment team such as Chinese pro­gram­mer Jan Tian be­ing im­mor­tal­ized as Brazil’s crack striker Janco Tiano.

Player fury

That is not a prob­lem that EA Sports has to deal with for a long while. The FIFA se­ries signed a deal with FIFPro, the fed­er­a­tion of pro­fes­sional soc­cer play­ers, which al­lowed them to use real player names for the third game in the se­ries, FIFA 96, and has continued to do so ever since. It’s some­thing that the play­ers them­selves take se­ri­ously and sev­eral have been very vo­cal in re­sponse to EA Sports re­leas­ing their rat­ings in the weeks lead­ing up to the re­lease of FIFA 18.

Delle Alli com­plained about his in-game rat­ing on Rio Fer­di­nand’s FIVE YouTube chan­nel, while Manch­ester City’s Ben­jamin Mendy called out EA Sports on Twit­ter for rat­ing him lower than his team­mates, and Chelsea’s Michy Bat­shuayi de­manded EA Sports “ex­plain your­selves” for his score. Even down in the lower leagues – FIFA 18 cov­ers 52 fully li­censed na­tional leagues, in­clud­ing their lower divi­sions – Wy­combe Wan­der­ers striker Ade­bayo Ak­in­fenwa has ex­pressed his ire at not be­ing given a 99 rat­ing for strength.

Al­ter­nate re­al­ity

The man they call “The Beast” owes some of his cult sta­tus to the se­ries, where in var­i­ous edi­tions of FIFA he has been ranked as the phys­i­cally strong­est player in the game. If that is some­thing that even the most ca­sual fan of the real game can get be­hind when play­ing the vir­tual ver­sion, then Ak­in­fenwa’s career at AFC Wim­ble­don also added to his cul­tural ca­chet thanks to ac­claimed au­thor John Green’s side­line in up­load­ing videos of him play­ing as the side he calls the Wim­bly Womblys to his own YouTube chan­nel. FIFA has emerged as some­thing of its own world. There are pro­fes­sional play­ers of the video game, who earn money on con­tracts rep­re­sent­ing real world clubs at tour­na­ments or for prize money, and their regimes are ev­ery bit as con­trolled and de­mand­ing as the play­ers of pro­fes­sional soc­cer. There are also real-world teams that ex­ist be­cause of the video game. Hash­tag United were started by YouTube gamer Spencer Owen on his Spencer FC chan­nel and now play in their own ver­sion of the game’s FIFA Ul­ti­mate Team mode and chal­lenge teams made up of Premier League academy staff, me­dia or­ga­ni­za­tions and celebri­ties. Hash­tag United’s kit is one of sev­eral e-Sports teams that can be pur­chased by play­ers for their own FIFA Ul­ti­mate Team in the game. That is an­other in­di­ca­tion that there are hun­dreds of thou­sands of peo­ple who will watch peo­ple play video games, or video gamers play­ing real soc­cer, or even play as those video gamers in a video game rather than watch the ac­tual sport that the FIFA se­ries makes vir­tual.

New world

This blurred line be­tween the vir­tual and the real is one that EA ap­pears wise to with the in­clu­sion of The Jour­ney, a nar­ra­tive game mode that was in­tro­duced in FIFA 17, where the player takes the role of promising young player Alex Hunter as he aims to build a career, in­ter­act­ing with real-life play­ers and me­dia per­son­al­i­ties along the way. Hunter, played by Nige­ri­anEnglish ac­tor Tomiwa Edun, re­turns for this year and dur­ing his at­tempts to reach the peak of world soc­cer, in which he meets the likes of Cris­tiano Ron­aldo and Rio Fer­di­nand, he also be­comes a Coke Zero am­bas­sador. It’s a be­liev­able part of the life of a young player while si­mul­ta­ne­ously a canny ad­ver­tis­ing op­por­tu­nity and fol­lows on from his role in the adi­das “First Never Fol­lows” cam­paign in his de­but. Aside from ex­cit­ing the ad­ver­tis­ing in­dus­try, such tie-ins add to the au­then­tic­ity within the game. The se­ries has sold well over 100 mil­lion copies around the world with FIFA 18 lo­cal­ized in al­most 20 lan­guages and avail­able in more than 50 coun­tries and re­gions. For many of those, this is how they con­sume all of their soc­cer. Many of them think FIFA is merely the name of the game and not the world soc­cer gov­ern­ing body, which is per­haps no bad thing given the orig­i­nal FIFA’s re­cent past. FIFA, the video game, hasn’t had it all its own way over the years, ei­ther. It has long been in a pitched bat­tle with Kon­ami’s Pro Evo­lu­tion Soc­cer se­ries, a ri­valry as strong as any in real soc­cer. And for many years PES, not FIFA, was re­garded as the su­pe­rior game (and still is in some cor­ners), while the FIFA Man­ager se­ries of man­age­ment sim­u­la­tions was ul­ti­mately a fail­ure in the face of Foot­ball Man­ager. Re­gard­less, FIFA re­mains on top for now and is set to break sales records once again with the re­lease of FIFA 18, and a new gen­er­a­tion of fu­ture pro­fes­sional soc­cer play­ers and pro­fes­sional FIFA play­ers await.

Photo: IC

Arse­nal and France striker Alexan­dre La­cazette holds a plac­ard show­ing his at­tribute rank­ings in video game FIFA 18 at a launch party for the game in Lon­don on Septem­ber 21.

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