football sim takes on noisy neighbour Fortnite in battle royale for players’ time and money

football sim takes on noisy neighbour Fortnite in battle royale for players' time and money

The FIFA franchise has successfully faced off against a wide variety of adversaries since its resurgence a decade ago: poor old Pro Evolution Soccer; Proper Football Men such as Adrian Clarke; and even the UK Gambling Commission. And yet there are signs in this latest iteration that EA Sports have been spooked by the emergence of their unlikeliest noisy neighbour yet: Fortnite.
Not content with hoovering up every last penny of its players’ pocket money, FIFA now wants to commandeer every second of their free time too. Its two dominant modes – returning loot box-infested card trading behemoth FIFA Ultimate Team (or FUT for short), and slick new street-smart addition Volta – have been precision tooled to do to the attention economy what Manchester City’s forward line does to Premier League defences, or its accountants do to Financial Fair Play.
More of which in due course. First though, amid the omnipresent temptation of micro-transactions and labyrinthine reward loops, there’s a game of football to be played and the initial exchanges are encouraging. That caveat holds more water than with most games of this ilk, though as critiquing FIFA’s gameplay has become… troublesome. How the game plays now, a week before it’s even run out onto the pitch in public for the first time, will likely be very different to how it plays in January. Or even next month. 
Much like a promoted Premier League side, the attacking spring in FIFA 20’s step in September will likely be replaced by a far less appealing brand of football once the orange balls come out of storage – and it largely comes down to an innately conservative community and a lack of conviction.
It might serve as some small consolation to FIFA’s developers that in this regard at least, real world football is now taking its cues from their game. The troubled rollout of Video Assisted Referees in the Premier League would have been all too familiar to long term FIFA fans. Core mechanisms are muddled with (for VAR read tackling, or ball physics, or sprint speeds); vocal invested minorities rail against the change (for Paul Merson and Alan Shearer see FIFA’s sub-Reddits); and eventually the whole thing is de-scoped and scaled back (for Mike Dean’s refusal to overrule blatant penalty miscalls read the inevitable glut of gameplay patches). ‘Yes’, you can imagine FIFA’s gameplay developers saying ruefully to one another at the water cooler in their vast Vancouver campus, ‘welcome to our world’.
(Incidentally, while VAR is mercifully missing from FIFA 20, so is the option to bring defenders into your box for short goal kicks – a new law introduced this season by FIFA which feels like a significant oversight from a franchise that prides itself on providing an authentic football experience).

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