Why Fifa’s launch strategy is almost as important as the beautiful game itself

“So you just pay £50 to kick a pretend ball about?”

Those who don’t understand the beautiful game’s appeal will never grasp Fifa. But for football fans – and even casual onlookers – the annual launch is a monumental event in the calendar. Its launch ad campaign from Adam&Eve showcases how its cultural significance transcends fans, brands, and players.

The Premier League buzz is insane. Whether you’re opening a newspaper, switching on the TV or casually flicking Twitter open on any given evening, football has never been more culturally prominent in our country. Fifa as a brand reaps the benefits year upon year, with Fifa 17 being the series’ most popular, outselling 2016’s edition by nearly 18%.

Being 'into' football nowadays is as much about playing Fifa with my mates as it is fighting my better half for the remote to watch Match of the Day. What it means to be truly 'into' football has changed, and as Fifa continues to expand, evolve and diversify, the brand will only grow as a cultural staple while remaining the same as it’s always been: a footy simulator. Dragging in real-life football fans is always a plus, but with the value of eSports weighing in at an eye-watering $280m last year, the success of new editions is more pertinent now than ever.

Where other titles are forced to pioneer fresh storylines, weave in celebrity cameos and constantly reinvent engines, EA has struck gold with Fifa. It’s a tried and tested formula, and even with the prices of games increasing, Fifa 17 was last year’s best-selling release worldwide. Aggressively repeating the same model with slight variations builds traction, with the game’s US sales increasing by 35 percent between 2010 and 2012, reaching an impressive 2.6m units sold in 2012. While Call Of Duty is the go-to title stateside, Fifa has carved itself a real name through sheer bloody-mindedness.

By sticking with the newly-instated Frostbite engine, Fifa has developed to a point where even the smallest mod warrants excitement. Hell, just this week I genuinely sparked a conversation with a colleague solely based on the new interactive negotiations feature in Career Mode. Inevitably, 70% of the room chimed in with what they're looking forward to on the new release and asking what time I'd be online later for a game or five.

Features-wise, Fifa 18 isn’t going to be the longest lunge. ‘The Journey’, the story mode established on last year’s model, will be expanded with ‘The Journey: Hunter Returns’. But really, we’re just excited to kick a ball around a simulated pitch. It’s from a trusted brand. We pretty much know what we’re getting.

Despite Fifa’s main rival, Pro Evolution Soccer, releasing around the same time, there’s still no bumps in the road. Even though PES 2017’s adaptive AI, match analysis and edit and data sharing features were highly rated, the title sold 40 times less than Fifa last year. PES is a game. Fifa is football.

The extra topping of delirium is further fuelled by, arguably, the launch strategy’s greatest facet: teasing. Fifa is the master of drip-feeding content, and not just by periodically splashing it all over social channels like most brands. Releasing new videos, teasers and gameplay trailers via the previous channel – Fifa 17, in this case – without prompting users to download anything or perform an upgrade is sublime.

It’s not shoved down our throats. There’s no auto-play or annoying pop-ups, which is essential seeing as the teasing is performed upon a captive audience. They’re already sold in, year-round, waiting for the sustained annual product they love so dearly. It’s a dedicated fan-base and by getting back to basics, by preaching to the converted and treating them specially, Fifa is guaranteed traction before even casting a wider net.

It's a real world – or virtual world? – cart-to-horse analogy playing out. Fifa allows you to make your own decision. In watching their in-game content, you, the gamer, are choosing to do so, and through being allowed to be the decision maker, you’re actively engaged on a more mutual, organic level. Games developers are beholden to their audience, and keeping them sweet is ultimately the way to get things done and shift more units.

It does the high profile launch events, too – GAME is hosting midnight launch events where players can get their hands on the exclusive Ronaldo Edition three days early. Fifa also covers social pretty extensively, taking over Twitter with celebrity endorsements from all sides of the spectrum: Chabuddy G to Olly Murs. It plays the game, ticks all the boxes and does a great job with it.

But Fifa’s greatest strength is that it consistently pushes to keep the brand a culturally relevant staple. Each and every new release launched under the Fifa name is, and will continue to be, irrefutable in its ability to engage with stakeholders.

James Lester, producer at Five by Five

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