Confession time. We’re old enough to remember ‘FIFA International Soccer’. I know, I know! Who could have known that this game, released in 1993, with its groundbreaking isometric view but the equally frustrating bug that allowed you to stand in front of the opposition goalkeeper who then proceeded to kick it off you allowing your player to score – every single time – would grow up to be the behemoth that is the FIFA games franchise.
And it IS a behemoth. FIFA made the Guinness Book Of World Records in 2018 as the best-selling sports videogame series of all time with over 193 million copies sold. It is safe to say that with FIFA ‘19, ‘20 & ‘21 released since the FIFA series is still going strong.
So, why after all these years is FIFA still so popular?
Alternatively titled Fifa ‘94, the original game only featured international teams and did not have a license to use real players’ names. Club football didn’t enter the sphere until the following year with the release of FIFA ‘95 but still without real player names. It wasn’t until FIFA ’96 that we saw real player names and images coming in, and even then, they weren’t always correct but it is exactly this feature that placed the game on the map.
The ability to control the players we watch every week is what made the game. No ifs, buts, or maybes! It’s every soccer-obsessed kid’s dream to be the next Lionel Messi, Ronaldo, or Pernille Harder and if you can’t be as good as them, controlling them in-game is the next best thing. The addition of player names was the seminal moment in the series and facilitated a lot of what we see in today’s games.
If you want to see all the players in the game and their stats head over to the guys at FIFA Index to find a complete database for the last 3 releases.
The game developer, EA Sports, has hit on a formula that has brought them success for nearly 30 years now. Rarely does the game risk alienating its core group of fans with major changes, rather the game has gently evolved with each new release, and while some changes have been better received than others, generally the game has managed to consistently attract new players without losing existing ones.
Some of the most popular (though, not always intended) features introduced to the games were;
- FIFA ‘94 – Running away from the referee. If he can’t catch you, he can’t book you!
- FIFA ‘10 – Arguably the best in the series where the developers introduced more natural gameplay that encouraged spontaneity and improvisation.
- FIFA ‘14 – The Ignite engine brought a whole new level of gameplay
- FIFA ‘15 – First version to include detailed scans of all the players and stadiums in the EPL, the most popular league in the world.
Playability & Accessibility
FIFA is playable. It is a game that draws you in. It’s easy to find yourself immersed in the game and for hours to just pass you by. That said though, it isn’t the kind of game that doesn’t provide any natural breaks like say, an FPS, where you can just keep grinding for hours. It’s easy to say “just one more” but without being addictive in the way some other games are.
With some games, there’s no natural off switch. The nature of the sport of course means that FIFA lends itself to a more balanced life. A football game must have a beginning a middle and an end and, let’s be honest, often the frustration of conceding that last-minute goal is enough anyway to send you for a break!
FIFA is also accessible. The title is available on every major platform from PC through to Xbox, Playstation, Nintendo Switch, and Stadia and while the hardware needed varies on the version you are playing, high-end gaming gear is not required.
One Size Does Not Fit All
Over the last 28 years, EA Sports has developed a game where both casual and “hardcore” audiences have found a home. Many players love the realistic nature of the game and feel it has perfectly captured the excitement of the real thing while others prefer the more laid back, arcade experience. To address this there are multiple gameplay modes and options and players can tweak difficulty levels according to their abilities.
With all that said, possibly the most simple explanation for the popularity of FIFA is that soccer fans are some of the most dedicated sports fans in the world. Whomever they support, club or country, soccer fans feel like they are part of their team – through the good days and bad.
FIFA builds on that connection but at a time and place that suits the gamer.