Electronic Arts' FIFA series is one of the most lucrative brands in the game industry today, but the franchise almost didn't make it off the ground 20 years ago, according to a feature on MCV about the origins of the series.
EA's European division surveyed magazine readers in the early 1990s and found that an overwhelming majority of them were soccer fans. Members of the U.K. branch of EA tried to get the North American headquarters to let them develop a soccer video game. EA eventually agreed, but only after a lot of convincing from its European subsidiaries, and since EA Europe didn't have any development teams, the company put about 10 developers at EA Canada on the game.
The FIFA game had to be made with a small team and a low budget, its makers told MCV, because EA would have canceled it otherwise.
"They didn't think we were going to sell a single copy of [FIFA]. They thought it would be a complete disaster," said Marc Aubanel, an assistant producer on the game. "There were many, many meetings where it could have easily been cancelled. We had to constantly re-justify it."
Late in the development process, EA executives proposed releasing the game under a different name in North America, "Team USA Soccer." That was because "EA didn't give a shit about FIFA," said Neil Thewarapperuma, the head of European marketing for EA Sports at the time.
"EA didn't give a shit about FIFA"
But the developers and European staff convinced EA to launch the game worldwide as FIFA International Soccer (image above). It was released in late 1993, after its developers worked 16-hour days so EA could beat competing publisher U.S. Gold's World Cup USA 94 to market. EA expected to sell fewer than 300,000 copies across Europe, but it launched there at the beginning of December and EA recorded half a million sales by the end of 1993.
The most recent entry in the series, FIFA 13, launched last fall. EA had sold more than 12 million copies worldwide by the end of 2012, and tallied more than $100 million of digital revenue from the game.