Tuesday evening was supposed to be all about Microsoft's new console the Xbox One but after the Kinect Show had subsided, it was in fact EA SPORTS who went on to make the biggest waves with the surprise inclusion of their new next-gen game engine Ignite. FIFA 14 was of course at the forefront of that presentation where EA created themselves a monumental conflict of interest.
It was a surprise to us all when the news came through on Monday that EA would debut their next-gen sports offerings at the Xbox Reveal, as most commentators had that landmark firmly penciled in for E3. I'd suspect even Konami were caught off guard by EA's early next-gen thrust and now face an uphill task themselves with both the first current, and next-gen punches landed by EA. Perhaps the most surprised of all though were team Futhead News and we subsequently launched the site a good week before we were actually ready - thanks for the heads-up EA!
Launching the next-gen version of FIFA at such a high profile event, with so many people watching live made a lot of sense and doubly so now that EA SPORTS are "exclusive content" partners with Microsoft, a gaming industry trend I'm really not fond of. I'm sure the actual content itself will prove to be largely superficial (special packs, exclusive tournaments, etc) but as my site editing friend Tom eloquently put it, "the problem with exclusivity is that someone is always excluded..." indeed.
But as well as wowing FIFA fans around the world with shiny new graphics and promises of human level intelligence, what EA also managed to do in those five minutes was to create themselves a huge problem.
If, as expected the PS4 and Xbox One do launch this holiday season then that would leave just two months between a current gen FIFA 14 launch in late September and a next-gen FIFA 14 launch in late November. This will force a fairly difficult decision on to FIFA gamers, who will either have to double-dip and buy FIFA 14 twice (and a new console), or hold out for a few months and go for the assumed superior next-gen version powered by Ignite. For many though, holding out simply won't be an option.
It's going to be difficult for EA to handle from a marketing perspective too, because the urge to push the benefits that a next-gen FIFA 14 offers will be strong, but how do you do that without undermining a current-gen market share currently spanning 14.5 million copies ? "Hey FIFA fans, here's our next-gen version of FIFA 14 which is superior in every way to current consoles, but please continue to buy FIFA 14 on Xbox 360 in the mean time before the Xbox One launches". I can't see that washing with most people so it's going to be incredibly interesting to see how EA handle this friction over the next few months.
Probably the most interesting conflict though will be in the actual differences between the two versions of FIFA 14. Better graphics are a given and won't be a big enough draw alone to get early adopters on board, so EA must have something else in the works to really make the next-gen version of FIFA 14 a "must buy". Again, it's a dangerous game to play because what EA certainly can't be seen to do is to abandon the current-gen either, but then if the games are too similar, why would you even bother upgrading?
Most people assume that a new console generation will act as a sort of rebirth for the industry when in fact, the industry as whole will probably move in to a state of flux for at least 18 months post launch. FIFA's user base will be severed in two making persistent features like Football Club and the FUT Auction House doubly hard to manage and in terms of infrastructure EA will presumably need more servers....
How this conundrum will pan out I really don't know and whilst the prospect of a next-gen FIFA has me excited beyond words, the actual reality of these things is sometimes much more unpleasant.
What are your thoughts on the current-gen vs next-gen conflict? Will you adopt early and buy twice, or will you stay put?