Feature image via EA Sports
Welcome to the seventh installment of Gayme Corner, a biweekly column in which I talk about games, all types of games, and the ways we play them. Let’s talk FIFA.
Yesterday, FIFA 16 debuted with the long overdue option of playing female players on women’s national teams. However, the roster you’ll get with your FIFA 16 women’s team might be missing a few key players. According to EA, the company that produces the game, thirteen players that they planned to include “are currently attending or likely to attend NCAA-sanctioned schools in the U.S.”
Basically, as the NCAA informed EA recently, this counts as a violation of an NCAA regulation that prevents college athletes (classified as amateurs) from profiting off their appearance or likeness in merchandise or outside media, which includes video games. The players in question (6 Canadian team members, 6 Mexican team members, and 1 Spanish team member) stand to lose their sports scholarships and even their eligibility to play for their colleges. EA responded that it did not agree with the NCAA’s decision. They claim that they went through the proper legal channels to secure the rights to represent these players from national federations, but out of interest for the individual players’ lives, they replaced them with other players from their respective national teams.
This isn’t the first time EA and NCAA have had problems. EA used to produce the highly successful NCAA sports video games, until Ed O’Bannan, a former UCLA basketball player, sued the NCAA for profiting off his likeness in these games without compensation. In August, a judge ruled that the NCAA broke anti-trust laws by preventing universities from sharing its profits with the very student-athletes who generated them. The NCAA used to be more selective on where it enforced its amateur status rules, especially when there was money to be made, but it appears that the organization has responded to this new ruling by simply making it impossible for video-game-represented players to continue playing for the universities.
It bears mentioning that EA has never needed to engage with the NCAA in the FIFA series when it only featured male players. All of them were already in professional leagues. On the other hand, many women’s national teams are less supported and make less money, so professional leagues rely on turnover and younger players. Because EA chose to use women’s national teams and because national teams get to call up whoever they want to, 13 of its world class roster had to be replaced, and the game had to be recoded (and corresponding CDs reproduced). The game, by the numbers, doesn’t change, but it’s telling that EA didn’t have to worry about this until now.
Enough about the state of student-athletes in America. How’s the play? Well, depending on how you like to win in the FIFA series, better! Or worse. Speed and power aren’t the only stats that matter anymore. Defenders are more active. Possession can become frustratingly one-sided. There’s an expensive new feature called FUT (FIFA Ultimate Team), which is basically a random generator for custom team-building, instead of acquiring your dream team from scratch.
As for the addition of the women’s team, it’s a mix. It’s cool to be able to play as the USWNT (though it’d also be cool to play as Canadian Kadeisha Buchanan, who won the Best Young Player award this past summer), and EA did make to effort to make their female players more than just transposed versions of their male players. It’s decidedly a different style of play. However, there are only 12 teams available, which is only half the pool from this past World Cup and a fraction of the leagues and teams available for the men’s game. There’s only one tournament to play through, and you can’t play a female player in career mode. While the inclusion of female players is most welcome, just like in real FIFA, we’ve still got a ways to go.