Electronic Arts is the only major publisher that releases multiple licensed sports games each year, doing so under the company’s label of EA Sports. Success from the sports division has contributed heavily to EA’s stock trading at all-time high levels.
Earlier this week, EA released the financials on its most recent quarter and in doing so provided some interesting news on their various franchises. While some are thriving, they’re doing so while having to pull extra weight because of the failure of others.
The good news for the company is that the “FIFA” franchise continues to be a juggernaut. “FIFA 17” was the world’s biggest-selling video game in 2016. Most encouraging out of that is that the series continues to grow, as its sales were up 8 percent compared with the same period in 2015.
Some of the credit goes to the new story mode that was introduced in “FIFA 17.” The narrative-driven mode known as “The Journey” has been played by more than 10 million people, which proves both its widespread appeal and the ability to draw in consumers who may not have wanted the game otherwise. A second season of “The Journey” with a new story and new characters will be featured in “FIFA 18” this fall.
MORE: ‘FIFA 17’ review
“FIFA 17” and “Madden NFL 17” were the biggest contributors in the rise in digital revenue in 2016. Their Ultimate Team modes helped to generate $800 million in revenue. That’s up from an estimated $650 million in 2015.
The struggles continue, however, for the long-running “NBA Live” franchise. The early 2017 release on consoles, promised by the company since last May, has been canceled. Instead, the work will go toward an “NBA Live 18” with plans to put that out in the fall. It’s the fourth time in seven years that a scheduled “NBA Live” release has been either delayed or canceled.
“NBA Live 16” was the series’ last game on consoles and, while a better effort than the dreadful editions that preceded it, the game managed to sell only 8,000 copies in its first week of release. That’s compared with “NBA 2K16,” which moved well more than 1 million in the same time. EA Sports saw the writing on the wall and pushed “NBA Live 17” out of last fall, a period in which an insane amount of competition would have eaten it alive. The company did produce “NBA Live Mobile” since then, and it has proven to be a success and shown that the brand can still succeed in some capacity.
EA’s oft-repeated claims that a new console “NBA Live” game would release early in 2017 were immediately met by skepticism because of both the track record of the series and the time of year during which it would have been a difficult sell to consumers who likely already own the latest “NBA 2K” game. Sadly, the “NBA Live” franchise has become this predictable, and there will be legitimate questions around whether “NBA Live 18” will actually make it to market.
Looking ahead to fiscal year 2018 (April 2017-March 2018), EA also announced that “Madden NFL 18” will transition to the Frostbite Engine. Frostbite made its debut in a team sports game last year with “FIFA 17” and was also featured in 2015’s “Rory McIlroy PGA Tour.” The engine is adept at producing improved graphics, realistic character models, which better display emotions, new environments, and faster loading times.
One omission from the discussion regarded a potential follow-up to “Rory McIlroy PGA Tour.” The company originally planned to release a new golf game every other year, but it appears now the series has been put on the shelf. The McIlroy game was heavily criticized at release because of its lack of content — and, unsurprisingly, sales numbers disappointed. The loss of the license for The Masters hurt a great deal, and there were only nine licensed courses and 12 real golfers. More were added post-release, but by then the damage was done. The lack of a natural way to generate digital revenue in a golf game is likely another big factor for why a sequel isn’t coming in 2017.
Besides “FIFA 18,” “Madden NFL 18” and maybe “NBA Live 18,” EA Sports will also release “NHL 18” this fall and “EA Sports UFC 3,” which is likely to land in March 2018.
Bryan Wiedey posts sports gaming news and analysis daily at Pastapadre.com, is co-founder of the sports gaming site HitThePass.com, hosts the “Press Row Podcast” and be reached on Twitter @Pastapadre.