The Evolution of Soccer Games – FIFA’s Early Dominant Years (1994 – 1997)

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Electronic Arts is one of the world’s most prolific gaming companies. They have been around for decades, and have been making a ton of noise as publishers in the gaming space for generations. Their most well-known division is EA Sports, a powerful asset to the overall EA corporation. Trip Hawkins founded EA Sports after the success of EA as a home video game developer. EA Sports was created in 1991, with its headquarters being in Redwood City, California.  

Prior to FIFA, EA as a company was quite adamant on dipping their toes into all kinds of games. They were interested in keeping the variety of their games quite high, just as they are doing so currently. EA’s catalogue included some fantastic sports games such as Madden NFL 94, Team USA Basketball, PGA Tour Golf and of course Skate or Die. These are just some of the massively popular sports titles EA had worked on before FIFA, but their catalogue was much wider than that.  

EA’s Most Notable Games in the Early Years 

In the early years, EA wasn’t known for publishing only sports games, in fact they were known for publishing diverse gaming experiences. The most notable of these games was of course The Bard’s Tale, a fantasy role-playing for the Apple II. This game genuinely surprised fans by how much depth it exuded, it came out in 1985 and was a commercial and critical hit. Fans around the world were wishing for more Bard’s Tale, which EA then delivered with a sequel in 1986. Skyfox II was another game that became a smash hit for the Commodore 64 back when it came out in 1987. It became so popular in fact, that they had to port it to mainstay home consoles Agami, Atari ST and MS-DOS in the following two years.  

FIFA International Soccer 

This game was truly the turning point for EA as a company. Not only did they have a revolutionary intellectual property in their hands, but also a team of passionate programmers and artists. The concept was first brought up by EA Vancouver, who wanted to dive back into sports video games after the success of John Madden NFL. While FIFA International Soccer was mainly worked on by EA Vancouver, it also had smaller teams such as Tectoy, Tiertex Design Studios and a little-known development crew called Creative Assembly. Tectoy and Tiertex have gone off into obscurity, but Creative Assembly now heralds the incredibly popular Total War franchise of video games.  

Then came FIFA International Soccer, a game so overwhelmingly amazing, that it just took over the sports game landscape. This was the first game in the now massive FIFA series, and was originally released in 1993 for the Sega Mega Drive and the Sega Genesis consoles. It became such a smash hit that it was ported to almost every popular console at the time. The Commodore Amiga, MS-DOS, Game Boy, Game Gear, Sega CD, Master System and Super Nintendo Entertainment System all featured the game, and it outperformed other sports games on each one of these home consoles.  

The popularity of FIFA was simply because of the attention to detail that developers EA Vancouver had put into the initial framework of this game. It had a camera perspective that showed you almost the entire playing field, it had distinctive visual color-coding for each team, it had a tight control scheme which allowed for a lot of free-flow movement, not to mention, the amount of inputs you had was incredible. You could run, sprint, pass, shoot, slide, and even get penalties for poor sportsmanship. The game was essentially perfect.  

Not to mention, the genius marketing behind the game was spectacular. First off, the game featured 78 National teams in it, which already gave players incentive as representation. The advertising also talked vehemently about the in-game commentary which was done by Tony Gubba. Gubba was quite a prolific figure in the soccer scene at the time. Of course, multi-player being a feature made sure that players were even more interested due to the competitive nature of the game. FIFA International Soccer’s marketing was also done through critical reception. Reviews came out before the actual release and word of mouth became the driving force behind FIFA’s success.  

FIFA’s Evolution

FIFA became more and more immersive, and gave players even more options in their team preference. FIFA 95 introduced the concept of Club teams to the series. Then came FIFA 96, which brought in real player names and positions due to licensing deals. FIFA 97 pushed the series into a 3D (three dimensional) graphical design and added an indoor soccer mode, whereas FIFA 98 brought in a team and player customization option which is still one of the most beloved features of the franchise.  

This particular time period was genuinely a game changer for the FIFA franchise. It went from being a 2D game with decently polished gameplay mechanics, to a full fleshed out eco-system where gamers could create their own teams, manage their own players and take part in a plethora of different game modes including indoor soccer. 

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