The other football makes a move toward gaming supremacy with the latest installment of FIFA Soccer
The gridiron rules in America, a truism long reinforced by the unchecked popularity of the Madden NFL video-game franchise. But while soccer won't be threatening football's primacy on Madison Avenue anytime soon, there's reason to believe FIFA Soccer has already supplanted Madden as the sports game of choice in basements and college dorms. Electronic Arts announced on Oct. 5 that FIFA 11, the 18th installment in the developer's soccer franchise, moved a record-shattering 2.6 million units in the five days after its Sept. 28 release, making it the fastest-selling sports game of all time.
Wherefore the FIFA phenomenon? For starters, the game is deep. Gamers can choose among 542 teams from 34 domestic leagues in addition to 39 national sides. One can embark on a 15-year career as a player (including, for the first time, as a goalkeeper, which is more fun than it sounds) or manager, balancing results on the pitch with the negotiation of transfer fees and contracts off it. And an online mode allows for 11-on-11 matches with 21 of your closest friends—each user controlling one player on the pitch. The game itself is gorgeous, one of the most realistic sports simulations ever rendered. EA's painstaking attention to detail makes for heady playing atmospheres, with region-specific crowd noises (e.g., samba drums in South American stadiums) while the revered Andy Gray and Martin Tyler offer insightful commentary.
FIFA's challenge of Madden's supremacy seems a natural progression. It's no secret that soccer is growing in the U.S., and nowhere is that trend more apparent than in the gamer-rich 18--34 demo. The popularization of online gaming helps too. The 48 hours following FIFA 11's Oct. 1 launch in Europe were the busiest two-day period of online gaming in EA's history, with fans logging more than 18.6 million game sessions, 11.3 million of them on FIFA. And don't discount the globalization effect: With FIFA translated into 18 languages and available in 51 countries, it's never hard to find a foe in one of the online lounges—even, for this writer, at 4 a.m. on the East Coast. Madden isn't going anywhere, but its companion atop the gaming pile is here to stay.
PITCH-PERFECT PRODUCTION With its superb graphics and deep data set, FIFA 11 is truly a beautiful game.