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Soccer Gaming Series Kickoff- Licensing, FIFA 23 and EA Sports FC

This is part of a soccer gaming series which will be published in the leadup to the launch of FIFA 23

Happy Gaming Season to those who celebrate! If you're like me, completely obsessed (in a totally healthy way) with soccer and soccer gaming, then I've got everything you need in this series. I've enjoyed soccer gaming on consoles going back to the 1990's. Hard to top a fun experience like that of FIFA World Cup '98 and the iconic Chumbawamba song Tubthumping with that little blue bird dancing around. Glorious stuff. So moving on, it's that time of year again where we get hyped up for a fresh EA Sports FIFA soccer game. Get lost in scoring screamers, building rosters, stoking nostalgia and genuinely nerding out to the best of our abilities.

The official launch of the next, and the last, EA Sports FIFA soccer title is set for release on September 30. Technically the last because the licensing agreement between EA Sports and FIFA is ending. After FIFA 23, the title will change to EA Sports FC. The current agreement ends on Dec 31, 2022 following the FIFA World Cup. Negotiations were in the works for years but ultimately stalled.

The EA Sports FIFA gaming series has been one of the most popular video games of any genre on all consoles and PC for years. In 2021, EA confirmed that it made $1.6 billion in game sales from April 2020 to March 2021. Meanwhile "Live Services and Other" income was reportedly over $4 billion during the same period. This isn't specific to each video game that EA produces however they did report that FIFA 21 had over 25 million players while the Ultimate Team game mode grew 16% year-over-year and FUT matches were up 180%. In 2020, FIFA made over $150 million from licensing rights alone. Bottom line, FIFA and EA have made a lot of money recently with these games. Despite all of this success, financial and otherwise, FIFA was demanding more than double the fees it was already receiving from EA. So, EA walked away. FIFA being greedy? Who coulda seen that coming?! This may sound like a massive change with seismic repercussions but at the end of the day it really won't be and I'll tell you why.

FIFA is only one of about 300 licenses involved with the video game. National teams, leagues and clubs still have exclusive deals with EA. More specifically, over 19,000 players, 30 leagues, 700 teams and 100 stadiums are currently slated to remain in the game without FIFA licensing. The game will still feature authenticity in regards to said licensing which means real player faces, stadiums, team names, chants etc. The only real thing missing is the official FIFA name, i.e. the FIFA World Cup. That doesn't mean that EA can't produce World Cup content, they'll just have a slightly different name and logo in all likelihood. The same game modes, Ultimate Team (aka FUT), Career Mode, Pro Clubs and VOLTA football will all remain in EA Sports FC.

By dropping the FIFA licensing, this could also allow EA to pursue more creative outlets moving forward. One of the bigger criticisms in recent years, are the microtransactions via loot boxes, which many compare to gambling. Another frequent complaint is not producing enough new content with each new title. More specifically, they're good at adding new features but not always fixing old bugs. While I understand these complaints, I personally have been able to enjoy each reiteration of the game. Understandably, fans want a perfect simulation of a soccer game and the reality is it'll never be "perfect. Please do fix the old bugs though, that'd be nice! Anyway, this change to EA Sports FC will potentially allow the company to start fresh. Come out with a bang. They'll want to show FIFA what a mistake they made and show off their creativity. It's a chance to move away from criticisms they've received in the past and start anew. There are no more excuses once they drop FIFA and move on to EA Sports FC. They can invest how they want, they have all the control going forward. This should open up possibilities for new ideas. The direction of the franchise come EA Sports FC 2024 will be telling. At this point, no details have been released or leaked on what might be new for the FC title. So, at the end of the day the content will not see a huge shakeup just because of the FIFA licensing. Rather, it's an opportunity to move in a healthy, new direction going forward. Not to mention the negative connotation that FIFA carries because of their past corruption. From a public relations standpoint, this is a great time to get some distance from the international governing body.

After nearly 30 years of the same name, EA Sports FIFA (insert year), it's going to take some getting used to the new name. It's going to be strange to say "wanna play some FC" rather than "FIFA". Let's be honest, that's going to be really hard and weird!

So there won't be a FIFA 24, right?

Wrong. FIFA is sticking to their guns and claiming they'll pursue other options without EA Sports. FIFA President Gianni Infantino said "I can assure you that the only authentic, real game that has the FIFA name will be the best one available for gamers and footballs fans. The FIFA name is the only global, original title. FIFA 23, 24, 25 and 26 and so on- the constant is the FIFA name and it will remain forever and remain THE BEST". His capital letters, not mine. I have no doubt whatever FIFA produces from a gaming perspective will not be a serious competitor anytime soon. If it's as good as their self made films about themselves, United Passions, we are all in for a good laugh. Officially, FIFA is pursuing short term options in non-simulation soccer gaming for 2022 and 2023. A new major simulation soccer title is expected in 2024.

Major League Soccer

So how does our beloved domestic league come into play? Currently, MLS has a licensing agreement with EA Sports which is set to expire at the end of 2022. Unfortunately, the agreement does not provide the same level of detail as some of the biggest leagues in the world. For example, in MLS several individual clubs have reached exclusive deals with EA to include their club, their stadium and select player's face scans (meaning you see their real faces, not a generic one in game). Meanwhile, in the English Premier League every single club, the entire league, every stadium and virtually every single player's face has been scanned for authenticity. Simply put, the agreement in place with MLS is not as extensive as other leagues. In a recent statement from EA about the future of EA Sports FC, they said "Our licensing portfolio …will still be there. That includes exclusive partnerships with the Premier League, LaLiga, Bundesliga, Serie A, the MLS- and more to come. For FIFA 23, the expectation is that the content remains largely the same. LAFC's Banc of California stadium is the only "new" MLS stadium to be added to the game, per the latest data release. Currently, you can use select several MLS stadiums including BC Place, Dignity Health Sports Park, Mercedes-Benz Stadium, Lumen Field, Providence Park and Red Bull Arena. The current licensing agreement is the biggest sticking point for fans who are dying to see the official inclusion of every stadium, team, player faces, team chants/songs and overall atmosphere.

For hardcore MLS fans, taking your team into a Manager Career Mode is usually the most fun. In Career Mode, you can build out your squad to your liking, customize your tactics, hit the transfer market and develop your team over multiple seasons. You're also able to manage your own academy to produce new young players to bring into the squad or sell. There is also the ability to train players into different positions and with positive performances you can improve players' in-game stats. There are a lot of new features announced for Career Mode which I'll provide more detail in an upcoming article.

Ultimate team is a fun game mode for most fans but it doesn't add special MLS cards until the end of the cycle. This means you are stuck with the base cards which are relatively low rated and not competitive for online gaming. Although it's fun to use MLS players, it's a grind waiting until the Team of the Season special cards to come out next summer (this year it was early June when they were released). As it stands, the MLS content is not very strong in FUT.

Moving forward with EA Sports FC, we could see new developments although nothing is official yet. We did see a cryptic tweet from every MLS club a few weeks ago which showed each clubs stadium in the background, club crest in the corner and EA Sports FC font thrown across the middle of the image. No details have been released since but it seems to indicate that there will be some licensing agreement in place for the new FC game and MLS. Hopefully it's a more in depth agreement!

World Cup Content

In the same statement about EA Sports FC and the future of the game, EA stated clearly that FIFA 23 will have World Cup content. To what degree exactly, we don't know yet. Since they still retain the FIFA licensing, I imagine it will include an in-depth spin off mode within Ultimate Team and a Kick Off mode option. We can also expect that it will feature the authentic stadiums, teams and players in the tournament.

In FIFA 18, the modes available were World Cup Russia, Kick Off mode, Custom Tournament (granting users the ability rearrange the teams, i.e. to include Netherlands, Chile or USA who didn't actually qualify), and then within Ultimate Team: Single Player and Online Tournament, Single Player and Online Draft and Squad Building Challenges. There is reportedly a Women's World Cup option in the works although that won't integrate with the Ultimate Team mode. It's also worth noting that the inclusion of women's club teams is finally coming to the game. More on that in the future. Now just 111 days away from kickoff of the men's FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022, here's a handy visual of the groups in this year's tournament:

(Image: FIFA)

Part of the joy in playing the FUT version, is that you can build a fantasy team using players from various countries. You can always just select your favorite country to chase the Jules Rimet Trophy but in FUT you can be more creative. Previously, players had to be connected by country or confederation in order to "link up" chemistry wise. That being said, there's been leaks about a shakeup to the chemistry system (more on that in the next article). FUT will also have dynamic cards in a path to glory type of model. When the mode starts, you obtain players with base stats from various countries participating in the 2022 World Cup. As the real life tournament progresses, players are awarded boosts in their stats. The further a country advances, the further the boost to their players FUT cards.

Another aspect which has been confirmed is the introduction of FUT World Cup Hero cards. These will function like Hero's in FIFA 22 but are specifically World Cup based. Yaya Toure, Ricardo Carvalho and Park Ji Sung were the three featured players in the announcement. If you pre-order the Champions Edition of FIFA 23 by August 21st, you'll receive an untradeable World Cup hero on November 11th. More players will be announced at a later date which are based on real life, legendary performances from past World Cups. An exciting introduction to what promises to be very fun mode.

It is going to strange for everyone to experience the first ever World Cup not to take place in the summer, or at least for those in the Northern Hemisphere. Starting in November, this puts the World Cup mode directly in the middle of the FIFA game cycle. It remains to be seen how this really effects anything. Regardless, we'll have a World Cup mode where you can run through the whole tournament with any nation's team or you can go crazy creating a dream team in FUT.

eFootball and USL

Ah yes, the red headed step child. Absent from the FIFA 23 game, USL does have licensing for Konami's e-Football game. Recently announced as an exclusive, multiyear deal. Formerly known as Pro Evolution Soccer, or PES, the series has transitioned to a free-to-play series.

Years ago this was a game that rivaled EA Sports FIFA but those days have long since passed. After a steep decline they moved to a free-to-play model with very poor reviews due to various issues. If you are really into USL, this is the only place you can currently enjoy the league in all it's glory. However, be warned the menu's and gameplay are less than ideal.

Pre-Ordering FIFA 23

The official release date is September 30th and as is customary, there are pre-order bonus content options. Here are the full details of what's included in each version if you pre-order the game.

Standard Edition: $59.99 Retail Price

Career Mode homegrown talent

Team of the Week 1 Player Item

Mbappe loan item for 5 matches

FUT ambassador loan player pick

Champions Edition: $99 Retail Price

Pre-order by August 21 to receive a FIFA World Cup FUT Hero Player Item

3 days early access (Sept 27th)

Ones to Watch Player Item

4600 FIFA Points

Team of the Week Player Item

Mbappe Loan for 5 matches

FUT ambassador loan player pick

Career Mode homegrown talent

Typically you get the best price by pre-ordering on your console, while logged into FIFA 22 on your console, which gives you a 10% off discount if you pre-order the Champions Edition. The Champions Edition is primarily geared for those hardcore FUT players as evidenced by the bonus content. If you are really into FUT, the Champions Edition is a good way to "get ahead" when the game launches. Early in the cycle is the most fun time to play FUT since everyone is on relatively level ground starting up from scratch. The Champions Edition would ensure the grind is a little easier at first.

If that isn't your cup of tea, there's no harm in pre-ordering. Previously the EA Play Early Access was an option to get even earlier access via a 10 hour trial. If you pick up the Champions Edition, this advantage is now nullified. Which seems fair. EA Play is a monthly subscription of $4.99 per month which can be cancelled as soon as you finish the trial. If you do select the EA Play trial option, this is available at the same time as the Champions Edition early release on September 27.

More to come!

As the news continues to drop, I'll keep fans informed with this continuing series. Initial indications are that significant changes have been made to gameplay including a new game engine. Upcoming articles in this soccer gaming series will include a deep dive on gameplay, changes to Ultimate Team and Career Mode and more. If any news develops in the coming weeks regarding licensing agreements, World Cup and of course Major League Soccer, I'll make sure to bring you the latest.

If you don't follow me online (you should), I have a new handle, same account, on Twitter @nickholmberg11. Feel free to comment online, send feedback or whatever else is on your mind! Cheers fellow gamers and soccer fans!

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