This year's version of FIFA has not been great. A sentence that can be uttered almost every year without fail. However, this year's game is something a bit different.
Glitches occur in common places that they haven't before. Visual bugs cause players to go bald or UI elements to disappear. Even now, an incredibly simple exploit for constantly redeeming Volta Coins exists that has seemingly been happening since launch.
At the risk of sounding ancient and archaic, no one expects flawless games these days upon release. It's almost an element of torture and hilarity to try and play a game on Day One. You'll more than likely be hit with an immediate and hefty patch, or failing that an acknowledgement/apology stating that the developers are aware and fixes are coming.
So when it comes to FIFA, people generally set their standards "appropriately". That said, there has still be a very noticeable dip in quality and polish.
Most notably this time around, connectivity issues are rife. Much more so than they've been in previous iterations of the game. Online components in every game can never be guaranteed as perfect of course, but FIFA 23 has been abysmal even by the series' fairly low standards.
For any procurers of the Pro Clubs game mode, this litany of grievances would have been disgustingly apparent. Failure to find a "suitable" opponent, players being left behind when a match is found, losing control of your player on set pieces to name but a few encountered problems playing online.
Even EA's economic golden child of FIFA Ultimate Team (FUT) has not been immune from this year's tidal plague of bugs and impediments. Players disconnecting is not an unusual thing in competitive FUT, as most that are au fait with the game know when is best to cut their losses, even when they have spent a ton of FUT coins on their favorite players.
It's from these scenarios that the game falls afoul more often than not. The game often "soft locks", a state the game enters that essentially becomes a neverending loop that it can't recover from. You often enter a virtual abyss, forever gazing at a panoramic sweep of your stadium or watching your squad T-pose across the pitch to assert their dominance.
While nowhere near as touted as the frontrunner of its franchise, the substandard FIFA Street replacement of Volta Football was nigh unplayable at the time of release. Playing online with others was a fruitless venture. Sure you could get a glimpse of who you'd be playing with, but the lobby would eventually time out after around thirty seconds. There probably weren't too many people making haste for the forums and subreddits, but at the end of the day, FIFA 23 had a mode that simply didn't work online. That simply is not good enough.
And yet, despite the annoyances and frustration being abundant in supply, I propose a theory that this hot mess of a FIFA game may be a deliberate sabotage by EA, a parting shot as their license terms come to end with the international football organisation.
It must be stressed that this is simply a theory. There's no secret file. No hidden dossier that's come to light. Merely a hypothesis on why certain things in this year's version of FIFA have been so poor, including elements that have worked without fault in the past.
EA, having had the FIFA franchise at the core of their financial success over the last few years, are understandably frustrated and annoyed at the situation that has come to pass. By losing official licenses for players, clubs, and kits, it takes a markedly bright shine off of the package they're offering. It's also why Pro Evolution Soccer (now eFootball) constantly took second place for so long in the sales footrace against the FIFA series.
But for better or worse, they held firm against the questionable international footballing body, and refused to pay what can only really be described as an exorbitant sum of money to retain the rights to use the FIFA name, and all the bells and whistles that come along with that privilege.
At the time of writing, what exactly soccer gaming fans will get next year is still fairly blurry. Many are expecting a very vanilla outing, something along the lines of "EA Sports Football 24". And while that name or even the prospect of playing that game isn't very tantalizing, they may have caused (intentionally or not) FIFA 23 to leave a bitter enough taste that players figure it's worth trying something new.
Imagine a scenario where a player has grown bloated from a poor diet of FIFA 23's gameplay. After roughly a year of play, submerged firmly in the quagmire that is the game's online framework, the average FIFA 23 account user will see the new EA Sports game on the horizon. Then a thought occurs to them.
The last year of FIFA has been extremely poor, so the risk of trying out something new could potentially be worth the reward. That new being the new EA Sports title. After all, it will more likely be the same development team/studio at the helm of EA's new soccer outing (EA Canada). They'll at least have an idea of how to make a sports simulation game, right?
The seeds of doubt have been firmly sown this year among FIFA's audience. And EA will be looking to reap the harvest with their own version of the football fest in 2023.
They will need mass adoption however. Players may well stick with the devil they know and refuse to jump ship. Or even if they want to, unless their friends are willing to leap with them, the lifeboats will stay firmly moored to the Titanic, no matter how much water it takes on.
Again, it must be stressed that this is purely a theory deriving from FIFA's strangely worse-than-usual state, despite having been out for a decent chunk of time and suffering from problems that it didn't in past games.
It wouldn't be wholly surprising if EA's new sports title is Free-to-Play in order to lower the barrier to entry to those who have reservations about dropping $60/£60 on a game that might be subpar when they can get that with FIFA with proper player names and licenses.
Time will certainly tell.