EA Sports announced today that women will finally be allowed into its annual popular FIFA Soccer simulations, starting with this year's FIFA 16.
At a recent press preview event attended by Polygon, reporters got to play as either Germany or USA. The character models are different from the men's version, but the game plays the same way.
However, there are significant restrictions. There are only 12 women's teams, all of which are international, so none of the world's vibrant domestic or college leagues are featured. The full list of teams are USA, Canada, Mexico, Brazil, England, Spain, Germany, Italy, France, Sweden, China and Australia.
In FIFA 15 there were over 30 men's leagues, each with over a dozen teams and around 50 international teams.
"For us, it was more about getting the most of the best players," said Nick Channon, producer for FIFA 16. "The international women's game is big. Obviously that's where the best players are. We wanted to start there."
Some of the top women players have been scanned in for the game, though many models are based on photographs. Developer EA Canada motion captured USA stars Sydney Leroux, Abby Wambach, Alex Morgan and Megan Rapinoe.
Women vs Men
Women's teams may not play against men's teams. Channon told Polygon that this was in order to keep the game "authentic," as there are no cross-gender contests in professional soccer.
That said, the FIFA series does allow plenty of examples of quasi-simulation with scant relation to the real world. For example, the same teams can play one another (e.g. England vs. England) which is also something that is rarely seen in the professional game.
An EA spokesperson said that, "Women's National Teams are available in Kick Off, Match Day, an Offline Tournament, Skill Games, and Online Friendly Matches."
There are no women's ultimate team modes or career modes. While FIFA includes knockabout training and skills sessions for men and women, these will not be mixed. When asked if changes might be made in future FIFA games, Channon said, "We'll see what happens. We'll see the feedback when people get to play it."
Channon said that EA Sports wanted to "do it properly and not just put a woman's head on a man's body," adding that FIFA 16 will have "unique bodies based on a female body type."
He said that due to women players more likely to wear long hair and ponytails than men, EA Sports has added individual animation to hair, something that has also been added to long-haired male players.
EA's omission of women players has been a controversial decision for some time, particularly given the rapid growth in popularity of the women's game and the large number of women playing video games like FIFA.
In 2012, a Change.Org petition asked EA to consider adding women players and teams. "Young girls can't be portrayed by male videogame characters. We want them to be able see themselves in the games they love, as the soccer players that inspire them," stated the petition.
EA's announcement is clearly timed for the FIFA Women's World Cup, which is due to kick off in Canada next week. However, FIFA 16 will not feature the actual tournament. Today's announcement also coincides with a corruption scandal at FIFA, which is bound to throw a shadow over EA's relationship with soccer's much-criticized ruling body.
FIFA 16 will be available on Xbox One, Xbox 360, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 3 and Windows PC on Sept. 22.