Over the last year or so we've watched the dissolution of one of gaming's longest running partnerships, as EA's incredibly successful FIFA series detaches itself from licensing the FIFA name from football's world governing body. Long before this happened publicly senior EA figures would, behind closed doors, hint to miscreants like me that it was coming: because all the value came from EA's side. The videogame publisher has arguably done more to build FIFA as a brand over the last few decades than FIFA has done in its entire history.
Or as EA CEO Andrew Wilson put it to investors: FIFA is just "four letters on the front of the box (opens in new tab)". FIFA itself, which had been dropped after reportedly demanding $1 billion per series entry (opens in new tab), took the news like a spoiled child, with president Gianni Infantino declaring that whatever game had the FIFA branding will be "THE BEST (opens in new tab)", emphasis his.
So this year's FIFA 23 is the last in the series to bear that name (which made me oddly melancholy (opens in new tab)), and next year EA will move on to releasing its football games under the name EA Sports FC (opens in new tab). Meanwhile FIFA is looking for multiple new partners (opens in new tab) and hoping against hope that it can build something to compete against the juggernaut that once bore its name.
It's thus unsurprising that Roblox has been able to persuade FIFA to dip its toes into the wildly successful gaming platform (50 million daily users, according to the press release). Making Roblox games is cheap: or, at least, cheaper than competing with EA. And it also means you can get something out fast to a huge and overwhelmingly young audience.
The collaboration is called FIFA World, "a virtual environment that celebrates the power of football and the rich history of its pinnacle events." There are some references to the metaverse which I'll spare you, and to answer the most obvious question first: no, it's not a football game. This is a kind of walkaround social space with various football-themed rewards and challenges, with minigames based on things like keepie-ups, and various videos of great moments in football history.
Absolutely bizarrely, it also includes bowling. The Adidas Footbowling Arena. You had one job FIFA.
Flailing nonsense in other words, as EA proceeds to gobble up all that delicious football pie. This is a sideshow to what's going on in videogame sports, and there's nothing wrong with that, but the claim it's going to evolve and adapt and somehow be the representative space for this year's Qatar world cup or the 2023 women’s world cup is ludicrous.
"FIFA believes that such a multi-layered experience will result in a truly inclusive and fun gameplay–in turn, engaging new and existing football fans from across the globe, as well as promoting the values of the sport to an even broader audience," says FIFA's Romy Gai. What would those FIFA values be I wonder: according to the US Justice Department, they include allegedly trousering bribes to award the world cup to despotic regimes. (opens in new tab)
Christina Wootton, on the other hand, is VP of global partnerships at Roblox, and you best believe she's looking forward to her Christmas bonus: "We believe discovering and enjoying events together with friends from all over the globe is a unique experience that often can’t be replicated in the physical world".
That line is so insane I simply can't parse it. Look: I don't watch football with my dad as much as I did when I was a boy. But when we get the chance to, it's special because we're together. This notion that something like Roblox can somehow annex those kinds of social spaces... I don't buy it.
Not that a bit of grousing on PC Gamer dot com will stop the onwards march. Soon we will all have metaverse legs (opens in new tab).
"It’s incredibly exciting to see FIFA and Roblox come together," says Barcelona star Pedri, while blinking 'SOS' in morse code. "I can’t wait to be a part of FIFA World as it continues to evolve! The football fans I see in the stands every week love gaming."
The morse code bit was a joke, FIFA lawyers. In all seriousness, FIFA World is obviously not built for a has-been like myself, but that huge Roblox audience which snacks from game to game and may have a dabble with something new and shiny that includes video clips of great goals. At the time of writing it's had about 6,000 visits, and you can visit FIFA World here (opens in new tab).