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Analysing The Messi-Factor



Since the proclaimed re-birth of the FIFA Street franchise some months ago, it’s been clear from the very beginning that EA SPORTS were taking this new project incredibly seriously and today’s announcement concerning Lionel Messi firmly reinforces that.

Bringing the development of the brand back in-house was the first major statement of intent and EA’s repeated and obvious distancing from previous FIFA Street titles has allowed the community to get behind the latest re-imagining of street football without the baggage of previous failings.

Further to that the biggest cause for celebration has been the application of the FIFA 12 gameplay engine which in certain areas (Impact Engine) could lend itself much better to the stylisation of street football compared to the eleven-a-side game. Combined with a few street elements to add that extra dimension to procedings there’s an incredible amount of promise in next years vision.

But today’s acquisition of the Argentinian maestro and widely agreed “best player in the world” Lionel Messi as the FIFA Street cover star, takes things to a whole new level entirely. From a marketing perspective alone, bringing Messi in to the FIFA fold is nothing short of a masterstroke from EA SPORTS but the ramifications of this “multiyear” deal are much wider reaching than just PR.

Other than getting Pele to ditch the erectile dysfunction gig and come out of retirement, I can’t think of anyone that could promote the FIFA Street brand any better? Possibly Cristiano Ronaldo, but even then in terms of global appeal the god-like following of Messi is simply unrivalled. EA SPORTS have reached for the stars with their choice of cover athlete and in Messi they’ve managed to snare the brightest of them all.

It’s no great secret that the FIFA Street brand’s credibility was shattered after the largely successful first iteration released in 2005 and the name certainly doesn’t carry the same weight as the main FIFA series. To give FIFA Street the necessary prominence for a stand-alone title in the current gaming climate, there was no option but to do something truly remarkable. As a solution, Messi certainly fits the bill.

FIFA Street 3’s caricature approach to visuals and crippling lack and realism meant it was always destined to fail but the uninspiring trio of a past-his-best Ronaldinho, a rotund Gatusso and a spindly Peter Crouch certainly didn’t help boost sales. It’s important to remember that not everyone is a die-hard FIFA community member or even a football fan and just like the people that buy FIFA 12 because it looks like the televised game, people will buy FIFA Street because of Lionel Messi.

I’m sure the acquisition of Messi will also please those that seek any opportunity to twist the knife in to PES and the FIFA forums will no doubt be awash with such discussions. In reality no one knows how the negotiations for Messi took place or how his relationship with Konami ended be it naturally or forced, so my message would be, “stay classy folks”.

The other door that now opens is of course the potential for Messi to appear on the cover of other titles like the upcoming FIFA Football game for the Playstation Vita and FIFA 13 when the time comes. Once again the Messi-Factor shouldn’t be underestimated here and a combination of Lionel, Rooney and a regional star would only continue to enhance FIFA’s mass market appeal.

Having Messi on the cover isn’t the be all and end all though and FIFA Street still needs to stand-up as a great football game on its own merits and from what we’ve seen in the videos, screens and our interview it’s looking in very good shape. We’ll have a much better idea once we get hands-on time with FIFA Street but considering the new approach and the team members we know are involved, I’d be very surprised if it wasn’t at the very least a viable alternative to FIFA 12.

As the clock ticks down towards March 2012 the promotion of FIFA Street will naturally ramp-up and we should all have a much clearer vision of what the game has to offer come the turn of the year. So far FIFA Street has been marketed to absolute perfection though and the fact that Messi is now on board will send further shockwaves around the FIFA community and perhaps even then genre as a whole.

The barometer for success for FIFA Street isn’t how many copies it sells or how much pace the hype-train gathers, it’s whether FIFA Street can command its own thriving sub-community with a thirst for feedback and improvement post release. If that happens then all the effort that’s going in to gameplay, modes and the acquisition of Messi will be paid back tenfold, because EA SPORTS won’t just have a one-off rebooted street football game, they’ll have an exciting and current new franchise.

Combining the biggest name in world football with the biggest football gaming series may seem like an obvious idea, but the genius of pairing Messi with the FIFA brand is only surpassed by the genius of the man himself.

If Messi is a sign of things to come from FIFA, we haven’t seen anything yet.

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