By the way, if you’re interested in learning more about the process of licensing IP into video games, make sure you check out our new handbook: the Licensor’s Guide to Games.
After you’ve finished reading, you’ll have learned how to navigate the complexities of IP licensing in games to bring your brand to the forefront of the fastest-growing entertainment industry.
EA Sports, the publisher best known for its FIFA, NHL and Madden games, ended its licensing partnership with FIFA last year. This left fans wondering which football leagues would appear in EA’s next football game, EA Sports FC. The potential answer? Sky Sports reported last week that EA is closing in on an exclusive deal worth nearly $600 million with the Premier League. This deal is reportedly more than double the amount that EA was paying during its partnership with FIFA.
This type of exclusive partnership is not unprecedented in the video game industry, as similar deals have been made between other sports leagues and game developers in the past. However, the unique value of this particular deal lies in the popularity and global appeal of the Premier League, which makes it a highly sought-after property for game developers.
If closed, the deal will mean EA Sports remains the league’s lead partner for its first football release after the FIFA split, EA Sports FC. So, what can this deal tell us about the future success of EA Sports FC and the value of the Premier League licence? And where does all of this leave FIFA?
We can get some hints from looking back at the relationship between EA and FIFA. Despite a partnership spanning close to 30 years, EA had been openly questioning its relationship with FIFA before the split, with EA’s CEO Andrew Wilson saying in an internal meeting that the FIFA licence had been “an impediment” and was holding EA’s ambition for the series back.
According to documents seen by Video Games Chronicle, Wilson said:
“As we’ve looked to the future we want to grow the franchise, and ironically the FIFA licence has actually been an impediment to that.
“Our players tell us they want more cultural and commercial brands relevant to them in their markets, more deeply embedded in the game… brands like Nike. But because FIFA has a relationship with Adidas, we are not able to do that.
Wilson also claimed the FIFA licence was limiting EA’s ability to diversify the game by adding gameplay mechanics, expanding beyond the traditional 11 v 11 matches. He concluded:
“FIFA is just the name on the box, but they’ve precluded our ability to be able to branch into the areas that players want.”
$600 million might seem like an extraordinary amount of money, but EA’s Ultimate Team, an additional game mode that lets players build their own dream teams using characters from the FIFA, NFL and NHL series, generates an additional $1 billion for EA every year and generated $1.62 billion in 2021.
As Wilson mentions, FIFA’s existing partnerships with brands, such as Adidas, mean that EA Sports didn’t have full control of the game’s partnerships. Now that EA Sports is no longer associated with FIFA, the publisher has complete autonomy. Given the popularity of both the Premier League and EA Sports, there are plenty of brands that will want to partner with EA Sports FC.
Due to the power balances in football, the Premier League is strengthening its position as the most influential and powerful League within world football. Eleven Premier League clubs make up the top 20 in the Deloitte Money League study from the 2021-22 season, proving international leagues such as Bundesliga, La Liga, Eredivisie, and Ligue 1 have not got the same commercial strength as the Premier League. It’s this commercial strength that means Premier League clubs are able to attract the strongest commercial partnerships.
EA’s deal with the Premier League will solidify the company’s association with football and shows FIFA’s brand strength might not be as powerful as they think it is. It’s also worth noting that the IP of the Premier League is far more accessible than FIFA’s; World Cup 2026 host cities are permitted to sell their own sponsorships, but they’re not allowed to use FIFA’s World Cup IP.
As for where this new deal leaves FIFA, it’s free to negotiate with any existing video game company for a football game. However, none are more established than EA. The popularity of its nearest competitor, Konami’s PES (Pro Evolution Soccer), has declined rapidly. The game’s rebrand to free-to-play eFootball was viewed as a critical failure because of the game’s myriad of bugs and glitches at launch.
That said, eFootball recently announced its introducing 97 licensed teams across England, Spain, Italy, and France, a substantial improvement on the 26 licensed teams that were originally in the game, showing the market for football licenses is heating up.
At face value, EA Sports separating itself from FIFA after nearly 30 years may have seemed like a risk. However, EA’s existing relationships with football teams, commercial partners and IP holders, not to mention a large dedicated player base, mean the publisher is in a very strong position.
While the vast majority of brands looking to license their IP into video games or the metaverse are focusing on integrations and experiences within Fortnite and Roblox, there are some well-established video game franchises with enormous potential.
Video game publisher EA, had its Q3 2023 earnings call at the end of January, and The Sims 4 was one of the company’s biggest earners. Digiday spoke to EA’s SVP and general manager Samantha Ryan, in a fascinating discussion about branded experiences in the game, and how The Sims is building on the demand for user-generated content that has been so integral to the growth of Roblox, Minecraft and Fortnite.
While the aforementioned games have been slowly repositioning themselves as metaverse platforms due to their ability to integrate so seamlessly with brands, Digiday points out that EA didn’t mention the metaverse once on its earnings call.
Does this mean EA isn’t interested in taking a slice of the metaverse pie? Not exactly. Right now, The Sims is still firmly rooted in the traditional simulation experience that players have come to know and love since its original launch back in 2000. This means that outside of building your dream house and environment, it doesn’t offer brands, licence holders and creators the same levels of development flexibility as Roblox, Fortnite or Minecraft.
That said, there’s still massive potential for brands and IP thanks to the in-game tools that allow brands and players to create user-generated content such as clothing and furniture. Ryan also tells Digiday that The Sims’ developers are “well aware of the inherently social nature of today’s leading metaverse platforms”.
While the branded experiences in Roblox are created by third-party developers and not by Roblox directly, many of the branded experiences in The Sims, such as its collaborations with Depop and Moschino, are created in partnership through Maxis, the developer responsible for The Sims.
This means it’s not as easy to simply launch your IP or brand into The Sims, but those lucky enough to pursue such partnerships can reap plenty of benefits. The Sims 4 has 33 million players who spent 1 billion combined hours playing the game in 2021. EA also moved The Sims to a free-to-play model for The Sims 4, encouraging more people to check out the game.
Alongside branded clothing, furniture and item packs, player-created mods that allow The Sims players to tinker with their gaming experience by adding new gameplay features are also proving popular. These mods are available through the CurseForge platform thanks to EA’s partnership with Overwolf, which means they’re still moderated and curated.
The CEO of Overwolf tells Digiday:
“We believe that UGC is the future of gaming. Gamers get more content, mod authors are recognised and rewarded for their creations and publishers can outsource content creation in a way that is safe, while fostering engagement.”
These early experiments with mods combined with the success of their branded partnerships prove that The Sims 4 has a lot of potential as a future metaverse platform if it decides to open the franchise up to more experimental and UGC experiences.
“We have already done branded packs with ‘The Sims 4.’ We’ve done clothing brands, we’ve done big brands, we’ve done community collaborations. We will do more over time — we’re just dipping our toes in now,” Ryan tells Digiday.
If you’re interested in entering the metaverse, Roblox seems to be the easiest way in for most brands. All you need is an idea, the money to pay a Roblox development studio, and you can build your own branded experience in the hope that millions of people on the gaming platform will flock to it.
Roblox is usually the first name that comes to mind when people talk about the metaverse. That’s largely because there are over 58.8 million daily active users on the platform. But it’s important to remember that these 58 million players can choose from nine million different games on the platform.
That means there’s a lot of competition out there, proving that launching a branded experience on Roblox doesn’t mean it’s going to be successful. Even for the biggest brands and IP, player engagement can quickly grind to a halt once the initial PR hype has run its course.
The restaurant company Dave & Buster’s launched its Roblox experience on 8th February and has an average concurrent user count of around 250 players. As a direct contrast, the Sonic The Hedgehog-themed Sonic Speed Simulator has an average concurrent user count of around 10,000 players almost a year after its launch in March 2023.
Of course, Sonic The Hedgehog is an IP that most video game fans are familiar with, and as a video game franchise it’s already a great fit for the Roblox platform due to its natural gaming elements. In most cases, the most popular branded experiences on Roblox contain solid game mechanics, as proven by the success of Vans World (skateboarding), Hot Wheels Open World (racing), and Nars Color Quest (decoration).
So, not only is building your own branded experience from scratch in Roblox incredibly expensive, but it’s best suited for brands that already align with young gaming audiences. Even then, there’s no guarantee that players are going to visit and stick around long enough for you to monetise your world effectively, so your other option is integrating with a well-established Roblox game for a limited-time event.
This formula has led to so many successful mobile and console game collaborations over the years, whether it’s The Walking Dead in State of Survival, Spider-Man in PUBG: MOBILE or the Korean boy band BTS making an appearance in Cookie Run Kingdom.
Metaverse Marcom recently took a look at the most successful IP activations in Roblox games. As it points out, building a game from scratch in Roblox is one of the hardest and most expensive ways for brands to connect with users. If you look at the figures provided by Marcom, it’s easy to see why:
Most branded experiences in Roblox are lucky to hit over 100,000 daily visits, but games such as Adopt Me!, Livetopia and The Floor is Lava are picking up over one million every day. Adopt Me! is the most popular game on Roblox and has a staggering 16 million daily visits.
This might explain why Minions choose to integrate with the game rather than building its own experience – instant access to 16 million players with an average session time of 15 minutes. The same justification can be given to LOL Surprise in Twilight Daycare (1.8 million daily visits) and GAP in Club Roblox (1.25 million daily visits).
That said, these visits don’t account for unique players and while these numbers may look impressive, they’re still dwarfed by many of the most popular mobile games. As an example, PUBG: MOBILE has 30 million daily active players.
So, if you’re a licensor looking to step into the metaverse and you’re thinking about activating in Roblox, you may want to consider a Roblox integration rather than building your own world. Alternatively, you could do one better and pursue a deal in the mobile space with a video game that best aligns with your brand values – and that’s something we can help with.
Here are some of our other favourite brand collaborations, licensing deals and partnerships from the last month.
And in other news…