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A Sign Of Things To Come?


The Man City cat has been well amongst the FIFA pigeons since the announcement of the ‘unprecedented’ deal with EA SPORTS two weeks ago.  Predictably the exclusivity deal was met with a wave of resentment and confusion, unless of course you were a die-hard Man City fan. But what does this type of deal mean for FIFA going forward? Is it marketing gone mad, or is it just one of the world biggest sports gaming franchise flexing its muscles in the real world?

My initial response to the Man City deal was, “that’s awesome” but then as the details soaked in that soon changed to “why Man City?” And that’s probably the most interesting question of all, because although Man City’s rise to prominence has been swift, surely the status of a Barcelona, Real Madrid, AC Milan or dare I say it, a Manchester United would have been more powerful for a new scheme like this?

A lot of people have suggested that Man City were chosen because their vast riches have in some way lined EA SPORTS pockets and that FIFA 12 has been effectively ‘bought’. It’s a theory which even the lowest of the low could conclude and to call it wide of the mark would be an understatement. Of course pleasantries will have been exchanged here but until you see David Rutter rolling in a gold plated Rolls Royce, you can cool any ideas of FIFA 12 being another one of Sheikh Mansour’s playthings.

The deal in reality actually represents really good business for both parties. Man City gets top notch exposure in the biggest (in terms of sales) football gaming franchise on the planet and EA SPORTS get the wave of hysteria the deal has created to help promote FIFA 12 in the run up to release. It’s just about as win-win as you can get.

What the deal also demonstrates is that FIFA’s place in the global football market is growing and growing fast. The fact that Man City want to launch their new home kit with FIFA 12 as the vehicle, speaks volumes really and the lines between FIFA videogames and the real football world are becoming very blurred indeed. Man City it seems have realised this before anyone else. Access to millions of dedicated football fans, of which around 50% are new every year (statistic by Romily Broad) is worth its marketing weight in gold and Man City are merely the first, not the last to get on board the FIFA marketing train.

The actual content of the deal also seems to have riled people and again I’m not entirely sure why, because when you break it down there’s very little to get upset about.

Ok, so the entire Man City squad is getting the 8-way facial capture treatment for FIFA 12 but they’re not exactly the first to get this treatment. Even the Vancouver Whitecaps (no offence) have had 8-way facial capture and many other clubs last year also. With the expanding roster of superstars at Man City’s disposal 8-way facial capture would have happened naturally over time anyway, this deal has merely accelerated the process.

“Exclusive MCFC match simulations” we think relates to the ones we saw last season on EA Football World where the FIFA 11 game engine predicted the results of big matches before they happened. So perhaps this deal means Man City will have every home league game of the season simulated exclusively… bothered?

And of course Man City will now have their Eithad stadium in FIFA 12, of which there are already many licensed stadiums, all be it not enough for many peoples taste. My point is there’s really nothing here that will be the envy of other clubs fans for longer than five minutes. If you’re an avid Man City fan then it’s great, if you’re not then it’s kind of, so what?  And as for “An exclusive and unique free club specific pack design”, answers on a postcard please.

The deal does however raise a few morale issues concerning FIFA that I do share personally about the manner, rather than the content of this exclusivity deal.

FIFA has always proclaimed to be the ‘every mans’ football game and EA SPORTS quite rightly want FIFA to be an experience which anyone, regardless of gaming experience or even football knowledge can pick up and enjoy, straight from the box. But whilst the game is developed with the feedback of hardcore players (hate that terminology) in mind FIFA certainly has a mass market edge. The off switches for almost all of the latest gameplay elements are the obvious nod to EA’s wider usability concerns.

So when EA SPORTS strike a deal that is very niche and focuses individually on one club, that ‘every man’ ethos loses some credibility for me. EA should strive to deliver a grade A club experience for every fan, not just those whose club has cottoned on to a huge marketing opportunity. Whether the extra content is big or small matters not in a way because as fan of any other club in FIFA 12 you’re going to feel just a little short changed for your £40 compared to Man City fans. The deal singles out one club and one club only and that’s my issue.

Remember when EA SPORTS signed an exclusivity deal with the Premier League last year? I think we all thought at the time that this would culminate in a more cohesive Premiere League experience in FIFA11/FIFA12 but to be blunt, it hasn’t. It’s all very nice seeing the EA SPORTS logo on the TV but where’s the impact in the game? Perhaps a deal involving all EPL teams and associated sponsors is too big to even contemplate, but at least it would make sense in terms of what we would see in-game.

All we can hope really is that over time, more clubs around the world jump on the bandwagon and sign similar deals with EA SPORTS snow balling this club by club support. If that does happen in the future then it’s important that all leagues and countries are catered for. This isn’t FIFA 12: Premiership Edition after all and foreign fans of the FIFA series will feel rightfully aggrieved if this becomes an English only initiative.

I think it’s important for the community not to get too bogged down with the intricacies of the Man City deal and simply see it for what it is; a good marketing opportunity for both club and publisher. The content is largely superficial and in no way affects the future of FIFA 12/13 on the pitch, and as long as it stays that way, deals like this shouldn’t be of any real concern.

This community has enough worries about FIFA 12 as it is without wasting our time and energy on something we have no real control over. Personally I’d much rather focus my efforts on fighting the Team Tactics, Pro Passing, trapping, inertia, AI or finesse shot battles any day of the week. Without fundamental gameplay advances at the forefront of each FIFA development cycle, these bells and whistles marketing deals won’t even register and as a community it’s more important we drive these topics, rather than EA’s marketing strategy.

A sign of things to come? Without doubt and the only question is, who’s next?

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