Should FIFA release Biennially? Patch it up

FIFA is a franchise which I am heavily invested in. I’ve been playing it every year for as long as I can remember, meaning that I’ve probably put a whole load of cash in EA’s deep pockets over the years, especially with the introduction of Ultimate Team, which ensured my childhood obsession with Panini stickers transformed to the virtual space and continued into adulthood. Sometimes this investment has felt more than worth the expense, as my passion for football will never wane, at other times though I’ve often thought to myself what changes I was actually paying for.

Some years EA seems to go through stages of innovation, where a new mode will be added or we’ll see the game engine change, completely altering the face of the game, allowing for new features and an entirely different feel to what you are seeing and feeling on the pitch. At other times, a yearly release of FIFA can feel like nothing more than a change of strips and personnel, with some added buzz words thrown in such as, “personalisation, immersion and competition,” the latter of which graced the marketing for the latest release, FIFA 17.

Having played FIFA for many years, each time a new arrival in the series graces my presence, I often wonder to if I’m being fooled. Sitting playing the newly unwrapped game it’s often hard to see the difference at first, taking quite a few weeks to notice the subtle changes which make the game better each year. Of course, the addition of new modes such as Journey, Ultimate Team and the tweaks to the highly advanced multiplayer engine make FIFA what it is – it’s fair to say that thanks to these yearly alterations the gameplay and experience as a whole have advanced a lot over the years. But at the same time, it often feels difficult to justify paying out an extra £40 for what, most years, seem like minimal changes to the overall formula, after all, how much better could the developer possibly make the game when releasing a new version each year?

This got me thinking about Rockstar, a developer which seems to meticulously plan every single aspect of its games. A developer which with one patch can add so many new features that within a year it feels like you are part of a brand new experience. It’s likely why GTA V still charts regularly within the top five every single week of the year, despite releasing over three years ago. While this may not seem relevant to FIFA, bear with me, because it gave me pause for thought. What if EA could release a patch for FIFA that changed the experience? What if instead of releasing a new FIFA every year, instead, the developer offered us the new game via a patch? A patch which would cost half the price for current owners and add in the new features, player updates and strips? EA could still release the game on disc for those who don’t own last year’s version or just want discover download. What I’m proposing is a Biennial release of FIFA, a once every two year release, with a mega, paid for patch releasing during the years in between. That way, EA still gets money and as gamers, we are eased of the burden of paying for a new version every year, a version which is very often hard to justify.

There are downsides to this of course. FIFA is the biggest selling games franchise in the world. FIFA 16 was the best selling game of 2016. So why would EA want to do this? Would it not cost the developer money? I’m no business expert, but EA would need to recoup the cost of the patch, so obviously gamers paying for the patch seems fair. What it would do though is allow those developing the game an extra year to really get things right. Anyway, if there wasn’t a yearly release then surely those who don’t buy the game every year would jump on board too, perhaps making the game even more popular? It works for GTA V which is still in the charts after three years, so would the same model would likely work for EA too?

Whether we like it or not, gaming is all about patches. A game can completely change after release if the developer chooses to continue to support it – DriveClub being a perfect example having been a shambles at launch and now one of the best racers around. This means that EA can’t really use the excuse of it being impossible to patch in all the changes because we all know it would be. It’s just a question of would it want to? Would a change such as this be beneficially for the company? Gamers would benefit for sure and I personally feel the reputation of EA would also benefit. But in business, the shareholders and profit come before anything the consumer would like, so unless the yearly spending habits of FIFA players alters anytime soon, chances are things will stay the same.