Evolution of FIFA

  • EA Sports FIFA series has been popular with football fans and video game enthusiasts alike since it was 1st released in the mid-90’s, but the development of its online play and the ever-expanding world has resulted in a huge rise in the popularity of the game in recent years. 
  • The franchise has now sold over 260 million copies, with 24 million copies of FIFA 18 sold since its release last year.
  • The game has undergone plenty of changes, both cosmetic and conceptual, since the release of FIFA International Soccer in December 1993 compared to the current version, FIFA 19, played in the Gfinity Elite Series. 
  • The game managed to achieve positive reviews by differentiating itself from similar titles such as Sensible Soccer by scrapping the conventional bird’s-eye view utilised by other games at the time.
  • This portrayal, which gave FIFA International Soccer a feel more akin to watching a live football match, would underpin the realism instilled in each version of the game. 
  • The commitment to authenticity would also help continue FIFA’s differentiation in years to come, most notably around the rise to prominence of PES (but more on that later).
  • The gameplay capabilities are fairly rudimentary when contrasted against subsequent versions of FIFA, but nonetheless, the game represented an essential step as EA Sports took their first step into football video games having achieved success with American sports game titles such as John Madden Football, NHL Hockey and PGA Tour Golf.
  • The game was a pretty significant risk for the mostly North American team as they looked to take their first steps outside of the home market and capitalise on the global popularity of football. The name FIFA International Soccer was even chosen in response to fears that the game would be a flop in the USA and would only be salvaged by overseas sales. 
  • Given the trepidation around the game’s release, the monthly production cost was a miserly $30,000 – a drop in the ocean compared to the reported $350 million spent on developing FIFA 16.
  • The gamble paid off though, as around half a million copies were sold in Europe in the first four weeks after the game’s release, which was particularly impressive given that EA Sports had a total European sales target of 200,000. It would be easy to say that the rest was history from this point, but in a sense, the work had only just begun. 
  • The sequel, FIFA Soccer 95, was praised for improving gameplay and was widely deemed to be an improvement on its predecessor.  
  • FIFA Soccer 96 took a huge leap forward by including over 3,000 real players, compared to the previous versions which had used fictionalised player names. This feature has widely been credited with FIFA’s popularity over the years, as the realism afforded by this connection to the real world is a characteristic widely overlooked by other titles. 
  • The game was also made available on many platforms, increasing ubiquity of the FIFA series and reaching a far greater audience.
  • Another defining feature was the move to a 3D in-game engine, with the isometric view of the pitch used in the previous two versions abandoned for a sideline view that was able to pivot and zoom, unlike the old camera angle which strafed up and down the pitch.
  • FIFA 97 incorporated more advanced features, as polygonal player models were given more realistic movement (with ex-Spurs and Newcastle winger David Ginola providing the motion capture) and an indoor football mode allowing for a different style of gameplay.
  • By this point, the FIFA series had started to develop a personality, with many gamers enjoying the added features beyond basic matches, such as customisable teams, as well as the quirks of the game, like the glitch that allowed goalkeepers kicks to be charged down
  • There was a clamour from the video game crowd for football-based games, although many said that they enjoyed FIFA 97 due to its indoor mode, as the lack of throws, corners or goal kicks added to the consequential rebounding shots and passes made for a faster, more chaotic game.
  • The slower pace of the primary gameplay mode, which was a consequence of the improved realism in the movement of the players, resulted in mixed reviews, with some praising this realism and others decrying the speed of the play. 
  • This presented a quandary for EA Sports, as authenticity had been a core part of their offering as a game developer. 
  • Realism has always been an intrinsic part of EA Sports’ ethos, and even their slogan “it’s in the game” is a derivative of the original “if it’s in the game it’s in the game”, alluding to the realism that EA Sports looked to instil in its sports game titles.
  • At this point, EA Sports had to decide whether getting closer to real-life football was more important than creating a game that could prove more appealing to the broader video game audience. 
  • Ultimately, realism was favoured over speedier in-game mechanics as EA Sports also looked to forge a more significant connection with modern football with the release of FIFA: Road to World Cup 98.
  • The graphics engine for FIFA: Road to World Cup 98 was considerably improved from the previous version of the game, and many fans of the game appreciated the almost absurd level of detail in the game. All 174 FIFA-registered teams were included, giving gamers the chance to take lesser-lights of the international football scene like the Maldives or Vanuatu all the way to World Cup glory.
  • The addition of a soundtrack (including intro music from Blur’s “Song 2”) and improved individual player skill cemented FIFA: Road to World Cup 98 as the best version to date, so much so that a revamped spin-off (World Cup 98) was also released in March 1998. FIFA: Road to World Cup 98 was also the 1st version of the game to utilise directional arrows to help gamers when taking set pieces.
  • The much-loved indoor mode was abandoned in FIFA 99 as the main gameplay was developed to have a better flow and response rate, and for these reasons, this format was deemed unnecessary. 
  • FIFA 2000 also denoted a significant step for the game regarding esports competition as the game featured at the inaugural World Cyber Games in Yongin, South Korea in October 2000, and South Korea’s own Lee Ji-hun won gold against Taipei’s Huang Y-Kuei to become the first-ever FIFA world champion. 
  • FIFA continued to feature at the World Cyber Games until the tournament ceased in 2013, and interestingly Elite Series star deto of Epsilon eSports won the same tournament twice in consecutive years, with his wins coming in Busan, South Korea in 2011 and Kunshan, China in 2012.
  • As the 20th century drew to a close with unfounded Y2K fears and the divisive release of the Star Wars prequel trilogy, the FIFA journey was far from over, and the advent of improving consoles and internet access would take FIFA to all new heights in the next decade.
  • FIFA 2001 did very well and sold over 200,000 copies in the UK alone, with much of the sales success credited to the customisable kits and physics hacks which endeared the game to its devoted community. FIFA 2001 was also the first edition to feature a power bar for shooting across all versions of the game.
  • While critics commented that there were still improvements to be made, many including Gamespot said that the game represented a promising start to the series’ life on the newly-released PlayStation 2. FIFA also took its first steps towards its ultimate guise a multiplayer behemoth as the PC version included online gameplay.
  • FIFA Football 2002 was a solid if unspectacular effort, with new features including a power bar for passes and a more complex dribbling mechanic, making it harder for players to wander up the pitch unchallenged. 
  • One seemingly insignificant detail was that this would be the last edition of the game to include the Japanese national team. 
  • While many may have chuckled at the apparent insignificance of this move at the time, it signalled a seismic battle was about to commence in the football gaming industry.
  • Despite rivalry from other titles, FIFA had waded unchallenged for the most part of its surge to power, with games such as This Is Football and Michael Owen’s WLS 2000 failing to make a dent in the FIFA franchise. However, this changed in 2002 with the European release of Pro Evolution Soccer, more commonly known as Pro Evo or PES, into the vortex of football video games. 
  • FIFA was considered the better-looking game and it’s in-game mechanics began to catch up with PES as the decade wore on. FIFA Football 2003 was warmly received and sold over 600,000 copies in the UK and was regarded by critics as “the best choice” for fans of console football. FIFA Football 2004 also sold over 600,000 copies, and its in-game graphics were exceptional, with many individual players now featured in the game.
  • To better compete with PES, FIFA 06 saw a massive change in the in-game engine with more than half of the game’s original code being rewritten. 
  • The concept of team chemistry was also introduced, a factor which would become crucial in the formation of FIFA Ultimate Team. 
  • Career modes were now also capable of continuing for up to 15 seasons, allowing avid gamers to take a team from the lower echelons of the league into champions.
  • FIFA 08 made further strides forward in gameplay innovation as the “Be A Pro” game mode was introduced for the first time, allowing gamers to take control of a single player and forge their career. FIFA 09 built on this mode by allowing a new online ten versus ten mode, where each gamer takes control of one player in an entire team.
  • In a crucial step forward for online gameplay, the game also introduced FIFA Ultimate Team was introduced for the first time in March 2009. 
  • The initial version of FUT was very similar to that known now by Elite Series fans and players, with gamers being able to buy, trade and sell player cards with card pack categorised as Gold, Silver and Bronze.
  • Points could be earned by playing against others online, and the points accrued could also be used to purchase cards. The main difference was that FUT was only available as an expansion pack rather than a core part of the game, and this would continue through to FIFA 10 before being made a free download for FIFA 11.
  • The addition of a comprehensive method of online gameplay, that not only allowed gamers to compete against one another but also to strategise, build teams and develop nuanced styles of play that saw FIFA streak past PES in terms of global popularity. 
  • The realism of the football video game was found in neither the gameplay or the official players or teams, but in the competition between gamers themselves, and this discovery would propel FIFA to levels of popularity never seen before in sports gaming in the decade that followed.

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