Electronic Arts are the biggest sports simulation game developers in the world bar none. They hold exclusive licensing rights with the NFL, UFC, NHL and FIFA allowing them to release games annually that coincide with the beginning of their respective sporting seasons. Founded in 1982 by former Apple employee Trip Hawkins, they have been pioneers of the gaming industry for decades.
EA have developed and released plenty of non-sports related video games and continue to do so, including The Sims, Battlefield and Medal of Honor. However, the company is most recognisable for their efforts in the sports gaming industry. Although their first few years of releases did not include many sports games, it was in 1987 that we first saw just how big of an industry sports simulation games could be. This was the year that EA released Earl Weaver Baseball which became a major hit. This persuaded them to release more sporting titles which is what lead to the development of John Madden Football, released in 1989. Two years later, JMF (now known simply as ‘Madden NFL’) was one of the biggest video games in the world and helped EA create the EA Sports brand, coinciding with the release of NHL Hockey on the Sega Mega Drive.
Previously, the only real immersion fans of the NFL could get away from watching the games is through NFL fantasy, which remains one of the most popular pastimes for millions of Americans.
In 1993, EA Sports developed and released their first soccer simulation game. ‘FIFA International Soccer’ was the first ever release of what we now know as ‘FIFA Football’, and like EWB and JMF before it, it was an instant hit both critically and commercially. These video games represented a major shift in the industry and although maybe not by todays standards, they were lauded for their hyper-realistic gameplay and graphics.
FIFA, Madden, NHL and later on in the 90s ‘Tiger Woods PGA Tour Golf’ were the gold standard of sports video games. EA Sports had already signed licensing agreements with the NHL and FIFA meaning that they were able to use player likenesses as well as team/club names, badges, kits etc. These exclusive rights separated them from games such as Pro Evolution Soccer, giving them a major leg up on any competitors.
In 2004 they signed their first exclusive licensing deal with the NFL meaning, like their FIFA titles, they and only they could use the likeness of professional leagues. The company was by now a certified giant of the industry and this boosted them even higher.
It is hard to disagree with the hundreds of millions of fans worldwide who purchase these titles every year, but what exactly keeps them coming back? We all know sports is a huge industry and the ability to play as some of the biggest athletes in the world is of course a major selling point. As simulator games, you have the ability to mimic playstyles at your fingertips. Cristiano Ronaldo’s chop, Tom Brady’s legendary arm, whichever icon you wanted to play as EA Sports gave you the ability to.
It is a level of immersion that you can’t find in other games. Sports fans are some of the most passionate in the world and winning with your own team in a video game can almost mimic the feeling you would get were they to win in real life.
These games also changed how we knew multiplayer games. Aside from games like the original Pong, if you wanted to game with your buddies it was at the arcade or via a split screen in games like Mario Kart. EA Sports’ games allowed you to play on one screen against your friends with the added drama of being able to play as the team that you are a fan of. The spirit of competition is so much stronger in sports games as most all players have a real life attachment to the team and players they are playing as, making it mean all the more when you win!
The future of EA Sports looks bright too. They continue to be amongst the biggest selling video game titles every single year. FIFA 12 holds the record for the “fastest selling sports game ever” with over 3.2 million games sold and over $186 million generated at retail in its first week of release. EA’s partnership with FIFA will end upon the start of the 23/24 season but they will still feature exclusive partnerships with the Premier League, La Liga, Bundesliga, Serie A and the MLS. They still maintain partnerships with the NFL, NHL, UFC and PGA and will continue releasing these games under their known names. EA Sports has long had a monopoly over sports simulation games and there is no doubt this will continue for a long time.