FIFA’s Ultimate Team mode is lucrative enough to stand its own – but will EA take cues from Warzone and make that happen?
FIFA 22 is out now, and as our review notes, it’s one of the franchise’s strongest entries in years. More realistic animation, vastly improved player career, and the improved visuals we come to expect each year mean this year’s FIFA is a must-buy for fans.
EA should be celebrating the launch, but instead appears to have been drawn into more debates about the popular Ultimate Team mode. Is it promoting gambling? Is it encouraging players to spend money on loot boxes? For more on that discussion, I’d refer you to Eurogamer’s excellent interview with EA executive Chris Bruzzo.
For now, though, I think there’s a surprising source of inspiration EA could lean on for FIFA Ultimate Team’s future – Call of Duty Warzone.
An unlikely source of inspiration
Not long ago, the only way to experience Call of Duty’s fast-paced shooting, either alone or with friends, was through a new $60 release each year. For that price, you got a campaign (most years), multiplayer, and usually either Zombies or another co-operative mode.
In early 2020, though, Warzone was released – a completely free-to-play battle royale that took those signature mechanics and made them available for all players at no cost. If you happened to already own that year’s title, Modern Warfare, you’d be able to drop your loadouts into Warzone, but for everyone else, Warzone marked a great jumping-in point.
The result? Over 100 million players in just over a year. It’s not just that it was free, of course, and Warzone did offer some interesting wrinkles to the aging battle royale formula, but its impact was evident.
While Ultimate Team continues to bring in the cash ($1.62 billion in the last fiscal year alone), it’s clear that fans are starting to feel a little like the mode is in need of a shakeup. Could FIFA Ultimate Team be its own product?
FIFA Ultimate Team should be free-to-play
Imagine if EA SPORTS released FIFA Ultimate Team as an ever-evolving product, where players could jump in for free, and invest if they wanted to – just like Warzone. I’d wager you’d feel less hard done by shelling out for a pack or two if you hadn’t dropped a minimum of $60 on the game to begin with.
Sure, you’d need a mechanic to “recycle” cards for new variants as players move teams in real life, but you could convert FIFA’s current seasonal model into a paid battle pass for free customers, too.
The introduction of HyperMotion in this year’s game also signifies a sizeable engine upgrade, meaning that, in theory, the PS5 and Xbox Series X|S versions won’t need to be retooled for a while – a perfect opportunity for players to jump in.
Rumors had circulated in the past that EA is considering a move to free-to-play, and while PES, sorry, eFootball 2022 has had a horrendously botched launch, I don’t think that should put EA SPORTS off of the idea.
Not only would the company introduce plenty more to the FIFA franchise, but there’s an argument that the division of resources could allow for more content in an actual boxed FIFA product – maybe the online career mode that’s been mooted for years, or a long-due overhaul of Pro Clubs. Hell, if Ultimate Team goes free-to-play, it’d surely add crossplay, finally.
There’s no guarantee that’ll happen, of course, but as someone that’s spent more time in free-to-play games in the last year or two than I could possibly count, I think there’s the potential for a big shakeup – and after the clear success of Apex Legends, I’m pretty sure it’s already on EA’s mind.