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EA boss claims FIFA is just "four letters on the front of the box"

Licensing negotiations hang in the balance.

EA boss Andrew Wilson has claimed that the FIFA licence is "an impediment" to the publisher's ambitions for the football series.

The comments were made in an internal meeting from November provided to VGC, in which Wilson discussed the status of licensing negotiations with FIFA.

Wilson claimed FIFA had precluded EA from expanding beyond the usual gameplay modes, or "broader digital ecosystems", and the only value the FIFA licence brings in a non-World Cup year is "four letters on the front of the box".

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In October last year, it was reported that EA was exploring the idea of dropping the FIFA name from its games, as the current agreement comes to an end in 2022.

Later, it was reported that FIFA wants "more than double" from EA to renew its licence, costing over $1 billion for each four-year World Cup cycle.

These latest comments from Wilson suggest EA isn't prepared to pay up and that it might actually benefit from ditching the FIFA brand, especially now that the FIFA games are more recognised than FIFA itself.

"I'm going to be more open... more open than I've been with the outside world," said Wilson. "We've had a great relationship with FIFA over the past 30-odd years. We've created billions in value... it's just huge. We've created one of the biggest entertainment properties on the planet.

"I would argue - and this may be a little biased - that the FIFA brand has more meaning as a video game than it does a governing body of soccer. We don't take that for granted and we try not to be arrogant. We've worked really hard to try and make FIFA understand what we need for the future."

He continued: "Basically, what we get from FIFA in a non-World Cup year is the four letters on the front of the box, in a world where most people don't even see the box anymore because they buy the game digitally.

"In a World Cup year of course, we get access to the World Cup, but in the broader context of global football on an annualised basis, the World Cup is important but it's not the most important. We have 300 other licences that give us the content that our players engage with the most and the most deeply."

In terms of benefits for dropping FIFA, Wilson believes it would allow for new brand partnerships and new game modes that fans are asking for.

"As we've looked to the future we want to grow the franchise, and ironically the FIFA licence has actually been an impediment to that," he said.

"Our players tell us they want more cultural and commercial brands relevant to them in their markets, more deeply embedded in the game... brands like Nike. But because FIFA has a relationship with Adidas, we are not able to do that.

"Our players tell us they want more modes of play, different things beyond 11v11 and different types of gameplay. I would tell you, it's been a fight to get FIFA to acknowledge the types of things that we want to create, because they say our licence only covers certain categories.

"Our players want us to expand into the digital ecosystem more broadly... our fans are telling us they want us to go and participate in that space.

"Our FIFA licence has actually precluded us from doing a lot of this stuff. Again, FIFA is just the name on the box, but they've precluded our ability to be able to branch into the areas that players want."

Further, FIFA is holding EA back from faster developments.

"Our players are telling us they want us to move really quick: 'we want you guys doing stuff fast'. And in order to do that, we need a level of freedom to be truly creative, innovative and experiment in the marketplace," said Wilson.

"Because of the nature of the approval timetables and the various things around our FIFA licence, that's actually been really hard and we're moving much slower than we want."

As for the future of negotiations, Wilson is unsure.

"At the end of the day, I don't know if we're going to get there," he said. "And ironically, if we don't, and we're able to rebrand our game and take control of this global football ecosystem that we're going to build, ironically we'll probably generate more revenue, and have more fans, and have more engagement over time.

"Because we'll be able to work with more partners, we'll be able to build more modes of play, we'll be able to expand more deeply and broadly into the digital ecosystems around the fabric of football, and more than anything we'll be able to move really, really fast.

"We're going to work through this, we're going to be thoughtful and we want to be good partners with FIFA, but I wouldn't be surprised if we ultimately move in a different direction. At the end of the day, I think that might even be better for our gamers than continuing with those four letters on the box."

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