The second part of series examines how FIFA cemented itself as a force to be reckoned with in the gaming world as well as delving into its rivalry with other games.
Into the 2000s: FIFA vs PES
The noughties got off to an inauspicious start for EA Sports, as UEFA Euro 2000 achieved nowhere near the acclaim of its international tournament predecessor World Cup 98. The game was described by Eurogamer as “incredibly rushed, with more emphasis on making the menu system look nice rather than making a game worth playing.”
Mercifully, the game did have one positive output:
Horrifying visions of Jamie Redknapp aside, FIFA 2001 did very well and sold over 200,000 copies in the UK alone, with much of the sales success credited to the customisable kits and physics hacks which endeared the game to its devoted community. FIFA 2001 was also the first edition to feature a power bar for shooting across all versions of the game.
While critics commented that there were still improvements to be made, many including Gamespot said that the game represented a promising start to the series’ life on the newly-released PlayStation 2. FIFA also took its first steps towards its ultimate guise a multiplayer behemoth as the PC version included online gameplay.
FIFA Football 2002 was a solid if unspectacular effort, with new features including a power bar for passes and a more complex dribbling mechanic, making it harder for players to wander up the pitch unchallenged. One seemingly insignificant detail was that this would be the last edition of the game to include the Japanese national team. While many may have chuckled at the apparent insignificance of this move at the time, it signalled a seismic battle was about to commence in the football gaming industry.
Despite rivalry from other titles, FIFA had waded unchallenged for the most part of its surge to power, with games such as This Is Football and Michael Owen’s WLS 2000 failing to make a dent in the FIFA franchise. However, this changed in 2002 with the European release of Pro Evolution Soccer, more commonly known as Pro Evo or PES, into the vortex of football video games. Aesthetes criticised PES’s inferior graphics and lack of licensed player and teams, but PES was praised for its gameplay which was far more nuanced than FIFA at the time.
Despite this reaction, FIFA was considered the better-looking game and its in-game mechanics began to catch up with PES as the decade wore on. FIFA Football 2003 was warmly received and sold over 600,000 copies in the UK and was regarded by critics as “the best choice” for fans of console football. FIFA Football 2004 also sold over 600,000 copies, and its in-game graphics were exceptional, with many individual players now featured in the game.
To try and get ahead of the competition, FIFA Football 2004 was released at a much earlier date in October compared to recent versions of the game, which had been released in around the start of November. FIFA Football 2005 was released earlier still on the 11th of October, although this was in part to avoid a clash with the release of FIFA Street.
Acknowledging the affinity for skilful play which had led to the creation of FIFA Street, the game had more practical player skills and the online version of the game proved extremely popular, with the servers staying open until 2008. FIFA Football 2005 also had the distinction of being the first FIFA title to be used in the FIFA Interactive World Cup (now known as the FIFA eWorld Cup). Thiago Carriço de Azevedo of Brazil defeated Matija Biljeskovic of Croatia 2-1 in the final in Zurich as the game took further steps into the world of esports.
To better compete with PES, FIFA 06 saw a massive change in the in-game engine with more than half of the game’s original code being rewritten. The concept of team chemistry was also introduced, a factor which would become crucial in the formation of FIFA Ultimate Team. Career modes were now also capable of continuing for up to 15 seasons, allowing avid gamers to take a team from the lower echelons of the league into champions.
As the rivalry between FIFA and PES intensified over the decade, many gamers found themselves questioning the philosophy behind EA Sports’ commitment to realism. What was real? Was real having the actual players, stadiums, kits and competitions? Or was real having a game that mimicked the feeling of playing football?
By its own admission, PES was never “real” as the cartoonish graphics were said to replicate “...what we imagine it feels like to be a hyper-athletic professional footballer, rather than the exact reality”. The innate connection to the real world held by FIFA continued to keep it in good stead, and the game became embedded in the world of esports when FIFA 07 was featured at the Championship Gaming Series in the USA.
FIFA 08 made further strides forward in gameplay innovation as the “Be A Pro” game mode was introduced for the first time, allowing gamers to take control of a single player and forge their career. FIFA 09 built on this mode by allowing a new online ten versus ten mode, where each gamer takes control of one player in an entire team.
In a crucial step forward for online gameplay, the game also introduced FIFA Ultimate Team was introduced for the first time in March 2009. The initial version of FUT was very similar to that known now by Elite Series fans and players, with gamers being able to buy, trade and sell player cards with card pack categorised as Gold, Silver and Bronze.
Points could be earned by playing against others online, and the points accrued could also be used to purchase cards. The main difference was that FUT was only available as an expansion pack rather than a core part of the game, and this would continue through to FIFA 10 before being made a free download for FIFA 11.
The addition of a comprehensive method of online gameplay, that not only allowed gamers to compete against one another but also to strategise, build teams and develop nuanced styles of play that saw FIFA streak past PES in terms of global popularity. The realism of the football video game was found in neither the gameplay or the official players or teams, but in the competition between gamers themselves, and this discovery would propel FIFA to levels of popularity never seen before in sports gaming in the decade that followed.
Next up we examine how FIFA propelled itself to all new heights as FUT grew in popularity, and we also track the rise of competitive FIFA in the world of esports.
You can also read the first instalment of the series here 👉The Evolution of FIFA: Part One