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FIFA 12, Euro 2012, DLC And The Future

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These days you can’t buy a videogame without it being accompanied by a plethora of planned downloadable content be it free, timed, or part of a regular stream of updates. It’s a trend every major publisher has adopted recently and depending on the content, DLC can extend gaming experiences beyond even our greatest expectations.

There are those who despise all forms of DLC though and in some cases they’re right to do so. Personally, I’m a big fan of DLC as long as it offers something deep, meaningful and at the right price. If the DLC offers nothing but aesthetic updates or content which clearly should have been on disk in the first place, then you can count me among the despising onlookers.

EA as a publisher are well versed in the distribution of DLC and all their major titles offer it in one form or another except FIFA, which has been oddly omitted from the traditional DLC model in favour of the micro-transactions we’ve seen so successfully deployed in Ultimate Team. That is of course until now, some four years down the line that FIFA will finally see its first genuine game mode offered as a downloadable extra – Euro 2012.

I’m sure EA have considered DLC for FIFA in the past but there’s no doubt that its circumstance that has driven this year’s decision. With FIFA 12 just six months old and the rebooted FIFA Street still warm in our consoles, it doesn’t make commercial sense for EA to release yet another full-priced title, especially with the retail market in a state of flux. With FIFA 13 beginning to enter people’s thoughts as well, there was almost no choice but to take the DLC road for Euro 2012.

It’s a much smaller tournament as well and that in itself makes Euro 2012 a more viable option for DLC compared to the World Cup games. The decision to leave out the qualifying stages is a further nod to the consideration needed with regards to file size and these restrictions quickly begin to encroach on what EA can actually offer within the DLC framework. That’s not to say the content feels limited but download only does have a significant impact compared to the relative freedom of a physical disk.

There’s also the thorny issue of potentially irking a FIFA fan base who with Season Ticket, Ultimate Team, FIFA 12 and FIFA Street feel they have already invested enough in the FIFA brand over the last year. Another £40 release so soon would have tipped most people over the edge, so to quell the discontent a half-way house £15.99 price point has been reached. In general DLC terms that’s at the top-end of the market but Euro 2012 certainly has the potential to occupy more hours than most DLC could ever dream of commanding.

Much of the early criticism has centred on the lack of gameplay updates and as I’m sure you’re all aware World Cup 2010 and its FIFA 10.5 gameplay is one of my favourite FIFA titles of all time. So I’m a shade disappointed too but the issue I guess is that EA would have to patch FIFA 12 as a whole rather than include any tweaks as part of the Euro 2012 update. Whether another patch will arrive is anyone’s guess but this is the problem with DLC for FIFA because if Euro 2012 did radically overhaul the gameplay how would you play online in FIFA 12 against people who didn’t buy Euro 2012? It’s essentially impossible.

For a sports game which has lead from the front in terms of its multiplayer setup it is odd for FIFA to join such a crowded party so late but does this Euro 2012 DLC perhaps offer a glimpse of the future? Let’s not forget that beyond Euro 2012 there are plenty of other International tournaments that FIFA doesn’t cater for, namely the African Cup of Nations and the Copa America both of which in theory, and licence permitting could receive similar treatment. Throw the missing club football tournaments in to the mix as well and that potential multiplies out even further. Licencing is an expensive business and a pay-per-view style model in the form of DLC could allow EA the freedom to pursue these pricy competitions and make enough margin themselves to deem the pursuit viable.

Cashing in on tournaments as they’re happening has already represented big business for FIFA in the past and it’s that nature of impulse attached to live sport which makes us dust off our old tennis rackets when-ever Wimbledon is on the TV. DLC is the perfect medium for it as well and as core gameplay can’t really be impacted, it could all be handled by sub-teams allowing core development of the FIFA engine to continue unaffected.

It’s all starting to point towards what is surely the new dawn for all AAA games which is that they become a service rather than an annual product release and you subscribe to that service in the same way you would with any MMO currently on the market. Whether that’s good for FIFA gamers is up for debate but it’s certainly an interesting prospect which-ever side of the fence you currently fall on. Updates would be more regular and combined with the potential tie-in of real world football tournaments you can start to see some of the added benefits. The next-generation of consoles will dictate much of this decision making and the adoption of faster broadband technologies will also play a key role but FIFA along with Call of Duty, Battlefield, Assassins Creed and Halo will no doubt lead the way in any brave new service based model one of which (COD Elite) is already underway.

There is still a lot to be said for physical retail though and I for one enjoy the unboxing of a new FIFA title almost as much as the playing and having something on your shelf to represent your time and money is a ritual which a lot of people just can’t shift. But in-between that annual release cycle the FIFA service is up for grabs and EA could take it any number of different directions. What’s to stop EA dealing direct with its consumers in physical copies as well? If you’re a paying subscriber of the “FIFA service” your copy of FIFA 1X simply arrives in the mail, direct from EA on release day. It’s not that far-fetched a prospect I assure you.

It is a dangerous prospect though even for online retail which could be shattered if publishers were to deal direct with their gaming public. Looking at Origin, EA are already starting this process online, so how long can it really be before it happens with physical media too? The publisher minimises its logistical, advertising and product placement costs and every penny made goes back in to the next game update, enhancement or release. If people think EA are a super power now, just imagine the future with all of the above.

There’s no doubt in my mind that the way we play games is on the edge of a meteoric shift and with persistent platforms like EA SPORTS Football Club already blooded in to the FIFA franchise that word “persistence” is only going to amplify as we inch ever closer to FIFA 13. FIFA may have been late to join the DLC revolution but there’s no doubt that FIFA’s architecture is slowly evolving in readiness for what comes next. I for one can’t wait to find out what it is.

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