EA Sports FC 24 — or FC24, for short — is a huge release for Electronic Arts, launching today on PlayStation, Xbox, PC, and Switch. But you wouldn’t necessarily know its importance from playing the new game. FC24 is the first title since the publisher’s split from FIFA, the sport’s global governing body, a chance for EA to break out on its own with one of the most popular franchises in gaming. But the game also feels like well, FIFA. Instead of a whole new franchise, it plays a lot like the one that came before it, with the kinds of updates and additions that are typical of an annualized sports game. It’s not a jarring change if you’ve spent a lot of time with FIFA 23.
This is not to say that FC24 is a bad game. I’ve mostly been enjoying my time with it. It looks better, particularly when it comes to animations, with new tech called HyperMotion V that uses real-world data so that players move like they do in the real world. It’s especially notable for big-name players who now look ripped out of a TV broadcast, with distinctive movements so that you can pick out Lionel Messi from afar.
There’s clearly been a lot of attention put on materials; jerseys sway and move like real cloth. Similarly, the new PlayStyles feature uses analytics data to make it so players behave more like they do in reality; some have an impeccable first touch, while others are good at thumping opponents on defense.
There’s also been a continued focus on improving the women’s side of the game, most notably by adding the top leagues in Germany and France and introducing — to much complaining in the comments sections of various social sites — female superstars in the game’s most popular mode, Ultimate Team.
These changes are notable and overall make for a better game. But they’re also expected. Sports franchises typically evolve slowly, with small shifts year to year that eventually create a totally changed experience. FC24 isn’t all that different from FIFA 23, but it’s light-years away from FIFA 10.
And according to Nick Wlodyka, general manager of the FC franchise at EA, this year’s release is just the start of a much more ambitious plan to create an ecosystem of soccer-related experiences. “To become a football platform isn’t going to happen overnight,” he explains. “As we transition from an almost sole focus on building video games, to expanding into other things, that’s going to take some time.”
“We don’t want to have those communities separate.”
So what’s actually changed from FIFA to FC aside from the name? Wlodyka says it comes down to an ethos that involves bringing the various games — including FC24 on PC and console, FC Mobile, and a new turn-based smartphone experience called FC Tactical — closer together. That’s not the case right now, but it’s a longer-term goal. Wlodyka cites Ultimate Team as an example.
“That’s by far our number one most engaging play experience. But Ultimate Team, and progression in FC Mobile, isn’t connected to FC on console,” he explains. “That’s one of the things that we need to figure out: how do we create these socially connected experiences for our community, especially when you think about the scale of hundreds of millions of people across the world, each connecting on a device that makes the most sense to them? We don’t want to have those communities separate.”
Mobile, in particular, is a bigger focus this time around, with the goal of making a smartphone experience that’s more in line with what’s available on console — but yet one that remains accessible to the many people who play primarily on their phone. I’ve played a bit of the newest release, and it definitely looks better, with a presentation that — while not on par with the console and PC version — is much more realistic than its predecessors. But like the main FC24, it doesn’t feel like a drastic departure from what came before it.
Even still, the reason for this renewed focus on mobile is obvious: the audience is just so much bigger. “It’s still only a fraction of the football fanbase,” Lawrence Koh, VP of FC Mobile, says of the traditional audience for these games. “A big reason is that not all of the 4 billion football fans around the world have access to a PlayStation 5, or an Xbox, or a PC capable of playing our premium FC24 product.”
For now, much of the future of the franchise remains theoretical. FC24 is a solid start, but it’s also not the seismic shift that many might’ve expected. The goal right now is to continue to expand the franchise’s presence on mobile and improve the experience in relatively newer — and quickly growing — areas like women’s soccer.
“One of our principles is representing what is happening out in the real world.”
“One of our principles is representing what is happening out in the real world,” Wlodyka says. “We’ve seen this amazing growth in the women’s game. And going back to our responsibility to deliver authenticity and representation of what’s happening in the real world, that is why it’s something that we’ve invested significantly in. We think it’s something that’s going to be tremendous for all players.”
All that said, the biggest challenge might actually come down to the name itself. Over the last three decades, FIFA has become a shorthand for “video game soccer,” culturally pervasive in a way that few games have achieved. It’s up there with Call of Duty and Pokémon. FC is a much more generic name, clearly associated with soccer but not necessarily video games. It’s unclear whether it will ever catch on in quite the same way, but Wlodyka and his team are playing the long game.
“We’re not fooling ourselves, we know it’s going to take a little bit of time,” he says. “We’ve had 30 years that people have come to know and love the franchise in a particular way.”