There’s a noticeable echo here of another leaked comment attributed to Wilson that the Fifa licence was actually “an impediment” to the videogame’s growth. I ask Jackson what EA Sports can do now that it couldn’t do previously.
“All the while that we were called Fifa, there’s this sort of act of repetition,” he explains, “there’s like an annualised cycle around this game. ‘What did we do last year? And how can we improve this year?’ It’s iterative versus innovative. The mindset shift now, starting with a blank piece of paper and being able to move forward is really, really valuable for us. We are able to now be more expansive about the experiences we offer beyond gaming.
“We truly believe we’re an interactive experiences organisation,” Jackson continues. “That doesn’t have to mean something limited to either a mobile phone and a gaming sense, or a console. We think in the future, we’re going to have the opportunity to expand into more of the ways in which fans engage with football content now, whether that’s broadcast rights and IP, whether that’s media platform and passive forms of entertainment around predictions, live scores, and highlights. That wasn’t necessarily achievable to us when we didn’t own our own IP and it is now.”
If that sounds like a long-term plan then that’s because it is. The first milestone is launching EA Sports FC, or ‘FC’ as EA Sports hopes it will come to be called.
“That was part of the audible design choice that we made,” says Jackson of the naming process, “making sure that it was short and succinct and could be shared around the watercooler or on the playground.”
The game itself is being kept under wraps until a reveal event in Amsterdam in July, and Jackson won’t be drawn on revealing any specific new features. Instead he insists players will recognise pretty much from the off that EA Sports FC is something genuinely new and innovative as opposed to another yearly update with a different name.
One of those innovations could be better integration of the women’s game. EA Sports has championed the women’s game, putting Chelsea forward Sam Kerr on the cover of Fifa 23 alongside Kylian Mbappe, and licensing the UK’s WSL, North America’s NWSL, and France’s Division 1 Feminene. However women’s teams have felt somewhat sidelined compared to the men’s. Did the Fifa licence impose restrictions in this regard?
“No, I don’t think so,” considers Jackson, before qualifying his answer. ”There’s a difference between maybe restriction and then intent, and I think we are very, very intentional about elevating and accelerating women’s football.
“Candidly, we were not in a position to effectively execute women’s club football in our titles until about two years ago. So we undertook a really really deep body of research to educate our organisation, from our engineers and codebase technicians all the way through to our marketing organisation and commercial to make people understand that women’s football is different.
“It’s different physically, it’s different from a business model perspective, it’s different culturally, we had to truly and deeply understand that before we could ever hope to execute it well. And from the moment that we executed that body of work, and we felt like we were educated enough to be able to authentically deliver women’s football, from that moment, we’ve seen tremendous success.”