It's been a pretty good couple of weeks for EA Sports where FIFA is concerned. First of all, they managed a 42% year on year increase in US sales for the game after just two days of it being on the shelves. That's a pretty remarkable uptake in interest for a country that is only really beginning to take 'soccer' seriously as a sport. They followed that up by selling over a million copies in the UK in a week. Again, the kind of thing that makes people in nice suits somewhere in Redwood, California jump for joy. I'm happy to say that from the extensive amount of time I've spent playing the console version of FIFA 13 over the last couple of weeks it definitely is worthy of its success as well, so fair play to them.
But it wouldn't be EA if there wasn't some pretty unsavoury news to sweep under the carpet at the same time. Alas, for all of the brilliance of this year's console instalment, EA are also responsible for one of the most brazen attempts at shameless profiteering I've seen for a number of years. I'm talking about FIFA 13 on the PS Vita.
The writing should have been on the wall really. Well, judging by the fact there was no writing about FIFA 13 on the PS Vita. Anywhere. Go on, Google it now. Yes, you'll find some news about the criticism it’s drawn, but I challenge you to find me a preview of it anywhere. Metacritic has just three critics reviews (fair play to Gamespot - seemingly the only major multi-platform gaming site prepared to bite the hand that feeds). The only coverage I came across at any point during the build-up to release was this interview CVG conducted with lead producer David Rutter. His response to the question about how the PS3 and PS Vita version of the games might link up, 'sorry to be a pain but we're not talking about Vita at all at the moment', tells you everything you need to know about how seriously EA is taking the platform at the moment.
It has however attracted a very impressive (in its own way) 26 one star reviews on Amazon. In fairness to the major gaming sites, they probably haven't been sent any review code, because I don't think I've ever seen a game receive so little fanfare before release, which goes some way to explaining the fury of those on Amazon who unfortunately didn't consider the possibility that the world's biggest gaming publisher might behave in such a cynical manner. I myself couldn't believe it when I went on to the PS Store on my Vita and saw FIFA 13 available; luckily my trusty natural scepticism kicked in before I could press the purchase button.
The reason people are so rightfully outraged is because EA are essentially charging one penny short of £40 for updated team rosters and some new kits. That is literally all that seems to have changed in this year's Vita edition (and apparently the Wii edition too). I say 'seems' because, of course, any new features that might have been added haven't been reported anywhere. In fact, I'm looking forward to seeing what they've put on the back of the box next time I'm in a game shop. The word from those that have bought it seems pretty conclusive however; EA have tried to rip us all off.
The sad thing is that they could have just used their common sense, as well as displayed a sense of decency and morality, by releasing this as a DLC pack for FIFA Football. Yes, it would have been disappointing to have to wait longer to see the impact engine, tactical defending and first touch control added to the handheld version of the game, but given FIFA Football only came out eight months ago it would have been somewhat understandable. Instead, they've just tried to pull the wool over Vita owners' eyes.
The most worrying thing about this for me though isn't another example of blatant money grabbing from EA; it's what this says about the attitude of gaming's biggest console publisher towards the PS Vita itself. The Vita's poor sales performance so far is common knowledge, but it's still quite shocking to think that so much has changed in such a small amount of time. Getting EA to include FIFA Football in the Vita's launch line-up was viewed as an early masterstroke by many, myself included, and to think that they've dropped support for this console in a major way less than a year into its lifecycle, especially when it desperately needs nothing more than a reliable stream of good games, really does trouble me.
A lot is riding on next month's release of Call of Duty on the system then, with the hope being that the presence of one of the world's biggest franchises can turn the fortunes of the handheld over the busy festive period. I can honestly say I don't think I've ever looked forward to the release of a CoD game more, and that has nothing to do with an overriding desire to play it.