Last year saw one of the biggest re-branding exercises in our industry's history as EA, which over decades had built the FIFA series into a juggernaut that saw off all competition, ended its relationship with football's world governing body. FIFA 23 (released in 2022) was the last in that series and 2023 saw the release of EA Sports FC 24, a name that became unavoidable to anyone who watched football in the latter half of the year: pitch hoardings, sponsorships, ads everywhere.
This is not exactly a story of fairytale indie success but, for all that EA CEO Andrew Wilson bullishly dismissed the FIFA license as "four words on a box", a decision that had the potential to go badly wrong. EA may have eventually decided FIFA didn't bring enough to the deal, but those four letters are inextricable from the world's biggest sport and the publisher had spent decades building customer loyalty to the FIFA videogame brand.
All the marketing clearly paid off because, while it's a slightly mixed bag, EA Sports FC 24 sold comparably to FIFA 23 and, thanks largely to Ultimate Team, has made more profit. EA held an investor call for Q3 of the financial year 2024 (the three months up to December 31st, 2023) and in both prepared remarks and on the call the company's suits were pleased if not quite cock-a-hoop.
"The FC platform is thriving at the center of the action, fandom, and culture of the world’s game," says an EA release. "The launch of EA SPORTS FC 24 has been a great success and has, once again, outperformed our expectations [...] driving strong engagement across FC’s multi-experience ecosystem. In Q3, players dove into Ultimate Team, driving double-digit net bookings growth and delivering the franchise’s biggest net bookings week ever."
EA's Chief Financial Officer, Stuart Canfield, put a little more meat on the bones. "Strength in our live services business, particularly in EA SPORTS FC Ultimate Team, was partially offset by some softness in the full game," said Canfield. 'Softness' is a nice executive euphemism for "didn't sell as many copies", and later in the results EA clarifies the full game sold around 5% fewer copies than FIFA 23. For a more localised example, the UK's Entertainment and Retail Association released sales figures for the UK market in early January, showing EA Sports FC had sold 2.25 million copies versus 2.39 million for FIFA 23.
But what really matters to EA is that growth in Ultimate Team. "Live services net bookings grew to a record $1.71 billion in Q3, up 3 percent year over year, or up 5 percent in constant currency, exceeding our expectations," purred Canfield, who did at least throw a sop about driving "healthy engagement". As for the full game sales being slightly down, that may have been to be expected in a major transition year for the series, but like any good CFO Canfield's got a bunch of other reasons, one being that a World Cup happened in 2022.
EA expects to see "moderated growth" over the full year from EA Sports FC compared to FIFA 23's figures, though does point out the latter was a record year. The earnings call repeatedly refers to "building FC" and EA describes the goal as making these games "the world’s largest interactive platform for global football fans" with some lip service to gameplay innovation and social connections. So far, so usual, but EA's sign-off on where it wants to go with this is eyebrow raising at least: "We are well positioned to grow this platform as a cultural phenomenon."