Publisher:EA Platform:PC Release Date: August 2010
Football is big business. Massive business. Insanely hugely immense business. This summer’s World Cup will be the most watched sporting event ever, with more than 1 in every 6 people on Earth expected to watch a game.
EA is well aware of this. The problem for EA is how do you capitalise on the second largest fanbase on the planet (fans of the film Aliens obviously being the largest) outside of cringe-worthy adverts with Pele selling Viagra? This is especially the case as only a small fraction of those fans are currently engaged by any sort of football video game. FIFA 10 might have been a cash inhaling success on both Xbox 360 and PS3, but in comparison to the total number of football fans around the world, the multi-million sales figures look tame. EA hopes the answer is FIFA Online, and we have to give them credit for what looks to be an ambitious new venture.
FIFA is nothing like EA’s other recently launch free-to-play sports franchise Tiger Woods PGA Tour Online which is entirely browser based; instead, the concept is similar to that of last year’s free-to-play Battlefield Heroes, with players downloading client software - currently weighing in at roughly 1GB - and then connecting to the service from their home systems. A similar game has already been successfully deployed in Asia, where the localised version of FIFA Online has been available for sometime.
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Once connected, players then compete against each other in a game of traditional foot-the-ball in matches varying in length depending on how long you want to play, earning experience with which you can improve your squad. The game also allows for drop in, drop out style gameplay while also providing consistent game rewards. Think of it like your typical MMO, with a consistent experience and rewards approach to multiplayer, only with footballs and fouls instead of DPS and raiding.
EA isn’t a charity though, so there is, of course, a business model attached to this entirely free to play game. As with Battlefield Heroes players will be able to pay real money for a leg up in the game, with experience accelerators and temporary kit upgrades allowing those who are willing to pay to advance quicker. However, when we spoke to FIFA Online Producer Adrian Blunt, he assured us that his team was wary of the imbalance issues that have become an issue in BF: Heroes due to pay for play upgrades, and will be looking to make sure that those who pay don’t receive an overpowered advantage.
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We’d be surprised if micro-transactions were the only source of revenue for FIFA Online though, with a football game coming readymade for non-invasive in game advertising via in-game pitchside billboards. This has already been tried to a limited extent with the Football Manager series and we’d be frankly amazed if EA weren’t to further capitalise on what could be millions of games played weekly.