How FIFA became a creative catalyst

Not just an enormously popular video game, this year saw FIFA become the impetus for some forward-thinking creative work. Engine and adam&eveDDB discuss its huge cultural influence and advertising’s changing relationship with gaming

With over 250 million players worldwide, FIFA is, arguably, less a video game and more of a media platform. In the nearly three decades since the first title in the series came out, FIFA has built up a vast, dedicated audience – and, like many other games, it’s one that’s not so easy for brands and advertisers to tap into. While games like Animal Crossing offered space for some clever and subversive bits of brand work, most major titles are a closed book.

“One of the issues is a lot of computer games are huge money-making operations, so if you go to a lot of these companies and say, oh we’ll give you £50k if you do this in your game, they’ll go, why would we do that?” says David Dearlove, creative director at Engine. “Computer games have a set of rules, so therefore whatever you want to drop into that you’ve got to be very careful is not changing the rules of those games. The fans are a pretty vocal bunch of people, and if you’re seen to be mucking around with the integrity of the game, it gets people really angry.”

FIFA has also worked hard to stay relevant. According to James Salmon, marketing director for EA Sports FIFA brand, partnerships with clubs, leagues, athletes, and even the artists on the in-game soundtrack are all an attempt to stay true to football, and remain at the forefront of conversation. And it’s definitely working, with over 300 million copies of FIFA sold across 51 countries.

This year, the game became the springboard for two campaigns – EA Sports’ Midnight Ramadan League and Engine’s work with the Kiyan Prince Foundation – both of which point the way forward for gaming and advertising’s relationship, as well as how FIFA’s cultural influence can be used for a wider purpose.