EA is pulling the plug on four of its older free-to-play PC titles.
By now, Ultimate Team's evolution from a cool add-on into the most popular mode in the whole FIFA series is well documented. EA Sports' fantasy football-inspired game lets you build a squad of players from around the world, tinkering with formations and player chemistry, before taking on other players or AI teams in actual games of FIFA. Playing matches earns you coins, which you spend on the transfer market as you seek to strengthen. It's a potent concoction that keeps many players going all year round.
But even in its current form as the bedrock of FIFA 14, it is still far from perfect. Perhaps the most fundamental issue is that it has always felt like a free-to-play game tacked on to what is already a premium purchase. Although it is possible to play Ultimate Team without spending any money, the emphasis is very much on buying packs that contain players to ease your progress, and it takes a long time to earn the in-game coins to do this, compared to a very short time to buy FIFA Points to pay for them instead.
FIFA World, which recently entered worldwide open beta, suggests EA Sports sees a future beyond this flawed but successful model. It's a free-to-play FIFA game that is, for now at least, available on PC only, and it consists of an Ultimate Team mode that is extremely similar to the one in the most recent FIFA games and a League Teams mode similar to the main series' Online Seasons. The gameplay engine is a little behind its big brother, but not as far as you might imagine, while the monetisation is always in your face but not as coercive as you might fear. In fact, my experience was often to the contrary.