So, I’m sure you’ve heard the news about FIFA.
No, I’m not talking about all the hoopla over the allegations that football’s governing body is so corrupt that the Mafia have started sending its members on FIFA business management courses, or the fact that they managed to stage the kind of election that would leave even Robert Mugabe saying “Now, hang on a minute.” I’m not even referring to Sepp Blatter’s post re-election press conference, during which his analogy to FIFA as a ship couldn’t have made him sound more like the captain of the Titanic if he’d broken out into an impromptu rendition of “My heart will go on”.
No, I’m talking, of course, of EA Sports’ official unveiling of FIFA 12, the next edition in its colossally popular football franchise, which is due out later this year. Proof, if ever any were needed, that no matter how cleverly you plan an announcement, you just can’t legislate for a juicy scandal stealing your thunder.
EA must have thought their timing was perfect. Coming just days after a show-stopping Champions League final, football fans about to embark on their arduous trek through the arid summer wilderness with only a drip feed of speculative transfer rumours to sustain them, would surely lap up every last drop of FIFA information. Instead, the news was washed away in a torrent of allegations over bribery and shady dealings within the organisation from which the series takes its name.
It’s a shame, because the game’s headline new features sound genuinely worthy of attention. The player impact engine is set to bring real-world physics and physicality to every shoulder barge, sliding tackle and other moment of contact between players. Precision dribbling will allow those with the appropriate skills to weave their way through the opposing ranks without having to produce a show reel of Hollywood-style tricks, and tactical defending will make it easier to snuff out threatening attacks.
What’s initially puzzling about the FIFA 12 reveal, though, is why EA is choosing to market the game as a “revolution rather than an evolution”. FIFA 11 mounted a very strong case for being the greatest football simulator ever, and while the changes in FIFA 12 seem both intelligent and attractive, they sound like steps forward rather than leaps. It’s hard to think, therefore, of a single reason why EA would want to talk in such hyperbolic terms.
But there are, of course, two very obvious reasons.
The first of these, is that the slogan is a direct dig at FIFA’s biggest rival, Konami’s Pro Evolution Soccer, which has been stuck down something of a Darwinian dead end since the start of the current console generation. The second, and by far the more important, however, comes from the leaked news that EA are planning to up the Recommended Retail Price for FIFA 12 to an almost insulting £54.99.
It’s normally hard enough for publishers to justify charging full price for annual sports franchises that return with metronomic regularity, usually with only minor alternations. So for FIFA 12, EA really needs to pull out all the stops to try and convince you that what it’s doing is more than just blatant profiteering.
What’s really disappointing about all of this, is that the revolution in the FIFA series actually took place in FIFA 08. Back then, it was a real revolution, based on an ideology, a dream, a desire to make FIFA the best football game ever whilst still retaining its popularity.
I’m certain FIFA 12 will turn out to be a stunning football game, possible the greatest to date, but if Electronic Arts really wants to make a significant change, all it needs to do is drop the price and switch the series’ name to disassociate themselves from the body that epitomises everything that’s worst about football. They won’t, of course, because the kind of money FIFA 12 is set to generate doesn’t just talk to you, it screams at you. And with this apparently EA’s primary concern, I can’t help finding FIFA 12’s talk of revolution slightly revolting.