The future of the FIFA Interactive World Cup appears to be in disarray after failing to deliver a promised new video game amid the bitter end to its three-decade partnership with EA Sports.
Not only did EA launch a rebranded game this week – FC 24 rather than FIFA 24 in its previous naming system – but it also has its own World Cup planned via EA Sports FC Pro.
FIFA and EA previously teamed up to run the flagship soccer esports tournament, dubbed the FIFAe World Cup from 2018, until the finals last July.
FIFA has no publicly scheduled eSports events and was unable to provide details to Sky News about the fate of its gaming World Cup – which it sees as key to engaging with younger audiences.
A dispute over the value of FIFA's brand led to a bitter split in 2022 with EA, which had been paying $150m (£122m) a year to license football's governing body for games.
It was one of the biggest sources of annual income for FIFA.
But FIFA president Gianni Infantino He thought that more could be created through his own game.
EA has gained an advantage over FIFA by signing hundreds of licenses around the world to provide FC 24 with major competitions such as the Premier League and UEFA Champions League and the game's biggest stars.
Convincing fans that an EA game has maintained its quality and appeal is the biggest challenge for the company without the FIFA association.
EA Sports senior director of marketing James Salmon told Sky News: “It's not easy. For a long time, FIFA has been a big part of our fans' knowledge of the sport and their interactions with our products.”
Asked if he feared a future FIFA launch dedicated to an EA product, he added: “We're absolutely not complacent.
“But what we're focused on is what we know is most important to our fans – authenticity, innovation and purpose – and making sure fans really know they love every league, club and player license. I'll continue EA Sports FC to be in the experience.”
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Thursday night's FC 24 event in London showed just how much of a cultural phenomenon the game has become while driving EA's £6bn annual revenue – without the need for an association with FIFA.
Gaming expert John O'Shea thinks the FIFA name alone won't carry the new game and it will be judged on quality, which will be difficult to produce.
“I think it will be very difficult for FIFA to produce a comparable game in a short period of time,” said Mr O'Shea, creative director and chief executive of the National Video Games Museum in Sheffield.
“That doesn't mean they can't play football and they could play very, very well.
“But I don't think they're going to be able to, in my opinion, create a competitive game right away.”
Although FIFA said 16 months ago it was working with “leading game publishers” to develop a “major new FIFA simulation football game title for 2024”, which has yet to materialize.
Mr Infantino said in May 2022: “I can assure you that the only authentic, real game bearing the FIFA name will be the best for players and football fans.”