Today, EA Sports’ FIFA series is critically acclaimed and globally dominant. Internally, football means football, not American football as played in Madden. 20 years ago, though, the publisher wanted nothing to do with it, according to this retrospective by MCV.
“EA didn’t give a shit about FIFA,” says the person who was EA’s European marketing boss at the time. But persistence, and some market research that showed high demand for football among European gamers, got FIFA the greenlight. It still went through a seat-of-the-pants debut, from the development of its prototype in the U.K. to the production of the first edition, by a team of 10, at EA Canada (which develops the game to this day.)
EA’s attitudes about the game at the time were shaped by the American market, which 20 years ago was nothing like it is today. Yes, the United States would host the 1994 World Cup, but high-level professional soccer was nonexistent in North America. (Major League Soccer opened play in 1996). Likewise, there was no Internet to help cultivate or serve American interest in European domestic leagues. And forget TV deals, where this year, NBC Sports outbid Fox and ESPN, to the tune of $US250 million, for the rights to carry the Premier League.
“They didn’t think we were going to sell a single copy of this,” Marc Aubanel, the assistant producer of FIFA International Soccer, told MCV. “They thought it would be a complete disaster.”
And top management appeared to be hell bent on making that happen, insisting on calling it “Team USA Soccer” for its North American release. They were talked into making it FIFA International Soccer because if the game was a dog on this continent, then the cartridges could simply be sent overseas and sold to people who did appreciate the sport.
MCV has a wonderfully reported history of the game with screens from the prototype — as well as an image of the cartridge itself (whose handwritten label reads “Soccer 9/16/93 Final Version Bruce’s Copy”). It’s a great longread on a weekend afternoon. Check it out.