FIFA 18 will launch sometime this autumn on the usual spread of consoles and PC. Nintendo Switch owners will instead get EA Sports FIFA.
That isn’t some parsed misreading of marketing copy. As noticed Friday by Eurogamer, Electronic Arts itself has specified two different FIFA video games to be shown at EA Play 2017 during E3: FIFA 18 and something called “EA Sports FIFA on the Nintendo Switch“
Given the publisher’s history in adapting undated sports titles for the Nintendo 3DS, Wii and Wii U, it’s fair to assume, until otherwise informed, that this is the same kind of obliged, toe-in-the-water port EA Sports usually dips with its major franchises on every new platform (even the PS Vita!), with no guarantees of a follow-up or full partnership alongside the PlayStation and Xbox consoles.
At any rate, the different name contradicts what Peter Moore, the many-hatted executive and former face of EA Sports, said back in February. “It will be FIFA 18, and it will obviously be later this year when FIFA 18 comes out,” Moore said then. He’s leaving the company this summer to become the chief executive of Liverpool Football Club.
Ever since EA reverse-engineered the Sega Genesis 27 years ago to develop John Madden Football, Nintendo has been the stepchild platform of sports video gaming. Some of this, like not launching a disc-format console until 2001, is Nintendo’s fault. But since the Wii, Nintendo gamers have gotten half-assed ports, exemplified by the insulting “All-Play” adaptations that featured cartoony player models and gratuitous implementation of motion control.
Nintendo hardware is not innately incompatible with sports. For a brief time, the Tiger Woods PGA Tour golf series on the Wii was the preferred option, and the astonishingly good NHL Slapshot of 2010 showed the publisher could make something distinctive and enjoyable on Nintendo hardware.
But going back to the undated Madden NFL Football for the Nintendo 3DS’ 2011 launch (built by a North Carolina port shop and not EA Sports Tiburon) Nintendo hardware has gotten little more than trial balloons from sports publishers. 2K Sports, which gamely kept its NHL franchise going on Wii even after canceling for Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, published NBA 2K13 for Wii U and immediately gave up. EA Sports launched Madden NFL 13 and FIFA 13 on Wii U. Roughly forty-two people played them, and there were no follow-up editions.
In light of this history, it’s a fair question what “EA Sports FIFA on the Nintendo Switch” really entails, whether it includes Ultimate Team, a story mode or the Frostbite Engine introduced to the game last year. In 2012, EA Sports repackaged FIFA 12 on the Wii as FIFA 13, changing only the rosters and kits. The next year, EA Sports recycled FIFA 13 as “FIFA 14 Legacy Edition” on the 3DS, and it was so blatantly no more than a roster update that Nintendo itself called it out as such in an official news release.
Nintendo gamers are sick to death of the puerile message-board slur that their consoles are boutique products despised by third-party publishers. For a more than a decade, sports video games, or the lack of them, have driven this impression more than any other genre. It would be a shame if EA Sports patronized the Nintendo Switch with a port of its best-selling franchise, instead of giving it full partnership.
Roster File is Polygon’s column on the intersection of sports and video games.