Opinion: Time for football games to embrace women’s football?

Opinion: Time for football games to embrace women’s football?

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In this article I intend to explain my opinion that it is time for football titles to embrace and include women’s football within their titles, first a bit of background. The first EA Sports FIFA title was released back in 1993 for a number of platforms ranging from the PC to the Amiga, SNES to Mega Drive, 3DO to Game Boy. It was titled FIFA International Soccer and featured a number of national teams, no real player names and in a break from tradition at the time featured an isometric view of the pitch rather than the top-down, side view or birds-eye view that was employed by most football games.

Since then the series has gone from strength to strength with the latest iteration featuring a wealth of teams, players and releasing for a vast number of consoles from the Playstation 2 through to the Playstation 4, the Xbox 360 to the Xbox One, and even handhelds getting in on the act. The first FIFA title was a success and while I have been unable to track down accurate sales data relating the that one, the latest in the series carries on that tradition selling 11.54 million copies worldwide. (1)

While other football titles have come and gone, challenged and at times surpassed the quality of the FIFA series there is no denying its impact on the gaming world and the number of fans who will buy the titles year-in and year-out.

In the titles we have seen creation suites introduced and the option to ‘Be-A-Pro.’ We have full career modes allowing you to take control of your favourite team and take them onto glory and we have online modes allowing you to take part in online leagues and tournaments. The series is known for boasting an incredibly large database of hundreds of teams and thousands of players. With all this crammed into the game is really begs the question, when is the time to introduce women’s football into the FIFA titles?

It is a question which has been asked a number of times since the series began. Numerous Change.org petitions have been made over the last couple of years asking EA to introduce female characters into the game but EA have remained quiet on the subject.

Of course FIFA isn’t the only sports game out there and this sort of question is asked numerous times for other sports titles, in one instance EA actually decided to include female athletes in the NHL series after a request was made by a 14 year-old fan. (2) So there is indeed an example of it happening in another game and hope that one day it could happen.

It isn’t exactly as if women’s football is an invisible entity either. Over the last couple of years the sport has seen rapid growth and appears regularly on TV here in the UK. Back in 2012 the FA launched a five-year program to promote the sport, developing an ‘Elite Performance Unit’ to support and develop players, expanding the FA Women’s Super League and allowing for more broadcast coverage. (3)

The recent 2012 Olympics held in London marked the first time a team from Great Britain would compete in the tournament. Although the team didn’t fare all that well, getting knocked out in the Quarter Finals (Fairly typical for a British team) by Canada the tournament was well attended with an average attendance of 25,000 per match and the United States coming out on top against Japan. (4)

While there is still a way to go before it hits the popularity of a number of other sports here in the UK there is still clear growth, there is a worldwide fanbase for women’s football and no reason as to why EA shouldn’t consider even having international teams in future games.

I reached out to EA Sports to see what they had, if anything to say on the matter, this is their response.

“As a team, we have discussed at length the inclusion of female characters in previous versions of FIFA, and whilst it was always something on our list of considerations, we were not able to put female characters into the game last year. There are many items that factor into deciding which features are included in FIFA including the level of impact on the game, volume of community requests on any given element, budgets, and resources.”

As you can see it has been considered in previous titles but for one reason or another it hasn’t come to fruition. I was also able to speak to prominent female games journalist Laura Kate of Indie Haven, and numerous other outlets to get her opinion on this matter.

What she had to say regarding the situation was rather insightful and provides a good reason for the various development teams of these games, not just football but sports in general, to consider these additions.

“I’ve never been a big fan of sports games. Their online communities have never been a welcoming place for women in general and they skim over an entire industry of female athletes and sports stars with every one of their annual releases. Every year we see updated rosters, improved physics engines, higher detail crowd character models and new shadow effects for the referees yellow card. We see such tiny granular updates made each year to try and encourage repeat purchases of these games to an existing crowd, but they’re ignoring a huge potential avenue to bring in new players to their games. Introducing Female Teams to their playable rosters, even if only as optional extras.

I want to be able to play sports as one of the sport teams I personally look up to. I want to be able to enjoy the fact that I’m actually being given someone of my own gender to aspire towards. I want to see some equality sooner or later. Women are not an alien species, you don’t need any new tech to have them in your games.”

It would be unfair to focus entirely on EA and the FIFA franchise in this discussion though as FIFA isn’t the only huge football series out there. Indeed Konami are the top challenger to the franchise with their Pro Evolution series and UK based Sports Interactive have their Football Manager series which releases year-in, year-out to wide acclaim.

I also reached out to Sports Interactive for their views on the matter. For those who don’t know Sports Interactive are the team behind the hugely successful Football Manager titles. A series which frequently occupies top spot on the PC Gaming charts in the UK. In their reply to me I was told that at this moment in time there are no current plans to introduce women’s football into the series, with this said it is something they would be delighted to do at some stage but due to the amount of work that it would require as well as the economics there is little justification for it just yet.

In their message to me I was also told that in order for them to do this they would need to build an entirely new player and staff database from scratch. Their current one has been built and maintained by a team of over 1,500 people across a number of years. In addition to this significant tweaks would have to be made to the 3D match engine as well as work on the in-game text.

The studio head Miles Jacobson has how gone on record as saying that when the professional women’s game reaches a particular level then a feminized version of the game will be started. This does of course link back in with what I said earlier in the story about the FA putting more investment into the game meaning there is a glimmer of hope. Sports Interactive, while selling big in the UK, are of course not the largest games developer in the world so their justifications do make some sense.

I do believe it would be considered unfair to merely lay the blame at the feet of publishers or developers for the matter. A lot of work does go into these games and part of this is in the licensing. As alluded to the FIFA franchise has hundreds upon thousands of licensed leagues, teams and players within its database, all of these licenses have to be negotiated thoroughly and conditions have to be satisfied, it might be arranging the licenses for the addition of female leagues and teams might be a difficult task. In the case of Football Manager it might be that the cost justification isn’t there. In the case of a title like FIFA though it is my personal opinion that even if they added one league or a couple of international teams it would be a positive step and could open themselves up to a massive new audience.

In answer to the original question posed at the top of this article, is it time for football titles to embrace women’s football? My answer is a resounding yes, it is indeed the right time.

Sources:
1. http://www.vgchartz.com/gamedb/?name=Fifa+14

2. http://www.vg247.com/2012/08/29/nhl-13-to-feature-female-athletes-hayley-wickenheiser-and-angela-ruggiero/

3. http://www.bbc.co.uk/sport/0/football/20068540

4. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Football_at_the_2012_Summer_Olympics_%E2%80%93_Women%27s_tournament#Gold_medal_match

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