The vast number of other licenses that EA Sports holds in soccer means that even if it were forced to rename its FIFA series, gamers brought up on a diet of digital soccer would notice little change when it came to the playing experience.
Still, any rupture would have consequences. The FIFA franchise is immensely profitable, said Gareth Sutcliffe, a senior analyst specializing in the video games sector at Enders Analysis, because EA Sports is able to make little more than cosmetic changes to its game most years and still enjoy millions of sales with the release of each new edition.
The game’s profitability has grown through innovations like player packs, similar to trading cards, that require users to spend money within the game as they seek to build the best rosters. Piers Harding Rolls, a gaming industry analyst at Ampere Analysis, estimated the in-game feature known as Ultimate Team was worth as much as $1.2 billion to EA last year.
It is this new economy that EA is looking toward as part of its growth strategy. It is also the kind of feature that FIFA would prefer to wall off, and perhaps sell in lucrative — and separate — deals.
For FIFA, a break with EA Sports, and the loss of its nine-figure licensing payments, could threaten some of the innovations proposed by FIFA’s president, Gianni Infantino. He is seeking to raise as much as $2 billion, for example, to finance a new expanded World Cup for clubs. At the same time, he is trying to persuade members to back his plan to increase the frequency of the World Cup to every two years.
To find those new revenues, FIFA officials have studied the possibility of selling licenses to video games and digital products that are not soccer-related. A partnership with another company like Epic Games, the maker of the hit Fortnite franchise, for example, would broaden FIFA’s reach but dilute the exclusivity for which EA pays a premium. That, according to former gaming industry insiders like Moore, could be why his former company is considering walking away.
“I’m going say, ‘Wait a second: We have literally spent hundreds of millions of dollars building this and you’re telling me that Epic Games can come in and get a license to the name that we have built and that we have put front and center and that has become synonymous with games?’” Moore said. “Then, yeah, I’m negotiating and I’m fighting that.”
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