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FIFA: Time to Improve the MLS Experience

Playing career mode with an MLS team in FIFA is like that nagging feeling you get when you're watching Man City play–everything looks good on the surface, but there's an undercurrent of inauthenticity running through it.

In real life, the biggest soccer league in the continent is an interesting hybrid of Europe and North America: While the action on the pitch mirrors a match you’d find on the other side of the Atlantic, off the field things are more North American—there’s a players draft, trading instead of buying and selling, and a salary cap (along with which comes a slew of special player quotas). But in the FIFA series, the MLS is just another league in the Career Mode, still stuck with the European management system. The MLS experience in FIFA needs improving, this much is obvious.

The MLS deserves a more faithful replication, and not the mash-up we’re currently getting from FIFA. You can argue that there should be motivation on EA’s side as well. In 2012, a poll conducted by ESPN has soccer being the second most popular sport in the 12-24 age group in America, and FIFA 13 increased its North American sales for the third-straight year. While it’s true that these North American fans’ favorite league may not be the MLS, it’s not a stretch either to imagine most of them having an affinity to their local club. And if numbers themselves aren’t enough encouragement, EA Sports also owns the exclusive license to the league. So how does company go about improving the MLS experience? A different mode? Or is it time for a dedicated Major League Soccer game? After all, the "big 4" do, and soccer isn't far behind.

But, let’s just say, don’t hold your breath for MLS ’14.

That’s not to say there aren’t any arguments for a dedicated Major League Soccer game, because there are a few. A dedicated game is the most complete and accurate way to recreate everything that’s unique about the MLS, warts and all. Imagine the possibilities: scouting the combine, wheeling and dealing your way up and down the Superdraft, and witnessing the in-game atmosphere in each club’s stadium, complete with authentic fans’ rituals.

Surprisingly enough, numbers, at least on the surface, may not be an issue either. FIFA 13 sold more than 1.7 million copies in North America for X360 and PS3, while NHL 13 sold 610,000. If, say, half the people who purchased FIFA 13 buy the dedicated MLS game, that’s still more business than what NHL 13 did. Add to the fact that an MLS game can use FIFA’s match engine, potentially lowering the cost of producing the game and, if one can dream, also the retail price, you have a pretty convincing argument for at least exploring the idea of a dedicated game.

However, the problem is that soccer, amongst all the North American sports, relies on the rest of the world’s leagues much more than the others do.



Making a soccer game for a specific league will not be a new thing for EA Sports. The Stars series—with the most popular one being FA Premier League Stars— was a series of games dedicated to an individual soccer league, released around the turn of the millennium. Take the Premier League version for example, while the game itself was fun, and it was a treat to see the kit and stadium of every team in the league, from Chelsea to Coventry, being realistically replicated, the game ran out of steam too quickly because there just wasn’t enough variety. You rarely have a sense of what’s going on outside the UK, and the game felt like it was being played in a vacuum. A dedicated MLS game will likely suffer from the same fate as the Stars series, even with a league as distinct as the MLS.

Soccer needs the Premier Leagues and the Serie As and the La Ligas more than an NHL game needs the KHL. Players and managers frequently get transferred around the world, and a team in the MLS still needs to pay attention to what goes on in the other continents and look out for potential recruits. Making an MLS game without simulating the other big leagues will simply not work. And if the solution is then to simulate those leagues, then why not make them playable? And if the leagues are playable, how is that any different from career mode in FIFA?

And that’s where the path leads back to: FIFA, either with MLS as a separate feature, or more likely, a few years of slow refinement within the existing career mode. These are much likelier possibilities.

A separate mode, like what PES currently does with Copa Libertadores, may make sense, if only to really distinguish and showcase the MLS format from the rest of the leagues. But again, why make a separate mode that still needs to simulate everything else, when you can just lump it in with career mode?

Which takes us all the way back to FIFA’s original career mode. As much of a compromising option as it is, it’s the one that makes the most sense for both sides, with the caveat that the philosophy of the current FIFA team carries on. On EA’s side, improving MLS within the career mode should cost the least out of all available options, besides doing nothing. And while the do-nothing option may have been a reflexive expectation from cynics (who were probably brought up playing the previous generations of FIFAs), the current producers have so far lived up to their watchword of authenticity. It requires a slight leap of faith, but you would have to think, with the inauthenticity of managing an MLS team like a European one sticking out so much compared to everything else that FIFA has gotten right, that correcting it is on the producers' radar.

The drawback, if this indeed the most likely solution, is the amount of time it may take for them to get to it. And when it happens, it may still only be the big things that get implemented. The crucial aspects will come—the draft, the trading— but what's more doubtful are the league/team-specific bells and whistles. It's a matter of priority, and while it may be nice to see Timbers fans singing the anthem, it's more important to make sure the right rules are implemented first.

So while the idea of a dedicated MLS game is an interesting one, ultimately it's just too unviable. And while that’s pretty much expected, what's more interesting is the reason why: not because of the familiar refrain that the MLS lacks the potential draw—an argument only those without much knowledge of the league would make—instead the issue is a more philosophical one. The consumers are actually there, but an MLS game needs the rest of the soccer world while the other North American sports, with the slight exception of the NHL, don’t. The next best thing, and a much likelier possibility, is a more authentic experience within FIFA's current career mode.


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Member Comments
# 1 Big_Mig_11 @ 04/01/13 02:05 PM
Great read. I agree with most of the article, that there needs to be an MLS specific software for the platforms in order to capture MLS stadiums, atmospheres, rules, playoff seeding, etc. The appetite for MLS fans can be had with a "MLS Mode" moving forward with FIFA, but down the line, there should be a revamped version of FIFA, like the World Cup games and Champions League.
 
# 2 DukesofHazzard @ 04/01/13 02:30 PM
I agree with everything in this article. You know they used to have a fifa euro edition game why can't they come out with an MLS version of fifa. Everything MLS with the game.
 
# 3 Blublub @ 04/01/13 03:11 PM
Hmmm...wouldn't the easier solution be for the MLS to drop the silly rules that try to shoehorn soccer into "the American sporting experience"? I mean you'd think twenty years into the league they would stop trying to cater to "casual fans" and make the league conform with the international game. Hell, get rid of the centralized player allocation, add promotion/relegation with the other US leagues and you'd see a huge interest in the league from hardcore fans.
 
# 4 Blublub @ 04/01/13 03:13 PM
Quote:
Originally Posted by Blublub
Hmmm...wouldn't the easier solution be for the MLS to drop the silly rules that try to shoehorn soccer into "the American sporting experience"? I mean you'd think twenty years into the league they would stop trying to cater to "casual fans" and make the league conform with the international game. Hell, get rid of the centralized player allocation, add promotion/relegation with the other US leagues and you'd see a huge interest in the league from hardcore fans.
Not to mention there actually was a dedicated Konami MLS game many years back that was actually pretty good yet sold miserably. I doubt EA wants to go there.
 
# 5 illaim @ 04/01/13 04:47 PM
Sans the shot at City, I salute this very good post
 
# 6 JJT @ 04/01/13 05:57 PM
Ya on the next gen systems there will be no excuse to not make this league great.
 
# 7 believeinnow @ 04/01/13 06:47 PM
The idea of an MLS-centric FIFA game is an interesting case that has been murmured about for years. It won't happen since it would require a completely different interface. Yes, Americans want everything to be americanized, but considering the MLS is ran differently than most other leagues, it would be unfair to change things for just one league. If they do that, then, they'll have to make changes to every other league. When Holland and Turkish leagues did playoff systems for a brief period of time, I don't think either saw those systems implemented in the game. Then to top it off, both countries stopped the playoff system.
 
# 8 JJT @ 04/01/13 07:15 PM
Fifa 13 units sold:

Holland - 10,000

Turkey - 17

Usa - 1,000,000


Thats why.


( #s might not be true lol)
 
# 9 rckabillyRaider @ 04/01/13 08:01 PM
I don't think a MLS game would work for some of the reasons mentioned in the article (though I definitely would buy it), but I do think EA should overhaul it in FIFA. At least obtain a USL or NASL license (how expensive can that be??) to have an expanded US Open Cup. Also implement some kind of CONCACAF Champions league, at least with the Mexican and MLS clubs. That would at least add a bit more variety during Career Mode
 
# 10 HKPound @ 04/01/13 08:58 PM
I would absolutely love if MLS was implemented correctly now that I've gotten into the league. I wish there was a proper CONCACAF Champions League though so we could at least be afforded the opportunity to play in that and than possibly the Club World Cup.
 
# 11 LosCriminales @ 04/02/13 05:26 AM
I've been beating this drum for some time myself. There have been a couple of MLS games - MLS Extra Time 2002 for Xbox 1 has CMGi field instead of Gillette and has Jack Edwards doing commentary but uses the PES engine. So there's still that system in the game - no shootouts (which happened at the time).

Anyway, I'm sure it's complete laziness on EA's part - take a look at their rosters -- someone like Clint Dempsey has a crap rating when playing for the Revs but then goes to Fulham and is magically improved.

Whatever.
 
# 12 Azamien @ 04/02/13 07:10 AM
Quote:
Originally Posted by Blublub
Hmmm...wouldn't the easier solution be for the MLS to drop the silly rules that try to shoehorn soccer into "the American sporting experience"? I mean you'd think twenty years into the league they would stop trying to cater to "casual fans" and make the league conform with the international game. Hell, get rid of the centralized player allocation, add promotion/relegation with the other US leagues and you'd see a huge interest in the league from hardcore fans.
Aside from having a playoff system (and since there's no Champions League for the top finishers to go to, having a playoff isn't a bad thing), the "silly" rules in MLS aren't meant to cater to anyone. They're to keep the league and its teams financially healthy so that it doesn't become yet another failed US league.

Player allocation is becoming somewhat de-centralized now that academies are up and running and starting to produce players. The SuperDraft is becoming less and less important, and I wouldn't be surprised if it goes away at some point.

As for promotion/relegation, MLS has already said they want that. I don't remember what the target year Garber gave was, but he said there isn't a promotion/relegation system in place now because there isn't a strong enough second-tier league. The only way they can have that sort of system is if it wouldn't kill off relegated teams, which right now it would. Could you imagine if NYRB or LA Galaxy were to get relegated right now? They'd have to dump their entire rosters to make up for the fact that no one would go watch them against NASL teams.
 
# 13 HKPound @ 04/02/13 09:31 AM
I've honestly never seen the issue with the MLS Superdraft, how does that hurt the league at all? Oh no, we are actually giving people the opportunity to get an education and pursue athletics, we must be idiots! The academies are growing which will help the league as well as the USMNT.
 
# 14 Jazzman1522 @ 04/02/13 09:32 AM
What keeps me from playing MLS in FIFA isn't the poor representation of MLS rules. It's the lack of a faithful representation of the US Open Cup and the lack of a CONCACAF Champions League to play in. This is totally wishful thinking, and will likely never happen, but I would love to see a game that is almost MLS-centric, but not quite. I would love it to include the development leagues in the U.S., if for no other reason than to play them in the Open Cup and to scout players from them. Then, throw in Liga MX teams and some Caribbean teams to play in Champions League. I would love this. It'll never happen, I'm sure, but I would love it.
 
# 15 HKPound @ 04/02/13 09:41 AM
Quote:
Originally Posted by Jazzman1522
What keeps me from playing MLS in FIFA isn't the poor representation of MLS rules. It's the lack of a faithful representation of the US Open Cup and the lack of a CONCACAF Champions League to play in. This is totally wishful thinking, and will likely never happen, but I would love to see a game that is almost MLS-centric, but not quite. I would love it to include the development leagues in the U.S., if for no other reason than to play them in the Open Cup and to scout players from them. Then, throw in Liga MX teams and some Caribbean teams to play in Champions League. I would love this. It'll never happen, I'm sure, but I would love it.
Yeah it's really a shame. Football Manager gets it down pat but EA won't do the same.
 
# 16 RedAL925 @ 04/02/13 10:09 AM
Quote:
Originally Posted by Jazzman1522
What keeps me from playing MLS in FIFA isn't the poor representation of MLS rules. It's the lack of a faithful representation of the US Open Cup and the lack of a CONCACAF Champions League to play in. This is totally wishful thinking, and will likely never happen, but I would love to see a game that is almost MLS-centric, but not quite. I would love it to include the development leagues in the U.S., if for no other reason than to play them in the Open Cup and to scout players from them. Then, throw in Liga MX teams and some Caribbean teams to play in Champions League. I would love this. It'll never happen, I'm sure, but I would love it.
What would you expect to happen 1st from EA: (A) adding NASL/USL-Pro for US Open Cup accuracy or (B) adding Carib/Central American teams to "Rest of World" for CONCACAF Champs accuracy?

Personally I think (A) would happen before (B), but I won't be holding my breath for either to happen anytime soon.
 
# 17 prettyfly @ 04/02/13 10:20 AM
Asking for accurate MLS league? What's next? Asking for accurate women soccer?
nah i think they should first try to make a better football (soccer) simulation befor they think about anything else....overhaul the AI, more variability at scoring goals, better dribbling animations and differences between the superstars (right now pretty much every player feels the same), more realistic player development, smarter transfermarket AI, implement coaches which will form teams differently etc.
 
# 18 celticfang @ 04/03/13 07:55 AM
Quote:
Originally Posted by Blublub
Not to mention there actually was a dedicated Konami MLS game many years back that was actually pretty good yet sold miserably. I doubt EA wants to go there.
Which was just a rebadged and reskinned (at the time) PS1 era PES game. It had the standared PES teams and the MLS teams tacked on.

I'd rather see another developer pick up the MLS reins and try to do an accurate MLS/NASL sim, I've not played too far into the indie soccer game scene but if anyone can do it (minus licenses and with fudged, but fixable names), it's the indie scene.
 
# 19 moblipeg @ 04/03/13 08:57 AM
I think the hard part about making a completely separate game is predicting exactly how many would buy it. Yes we can throw out fake metrics such as "x" amount of people bought FIFA 2013, so "y" amount of people will buy MLS 2014. Are FIFA purchasers buying the game to play as their favorite MLS team, or their favorite BPL team, or La Liga team, etc? Or are they even soccer fans at all? Maybe some gamers buy it because it is truly the best sports sim game out there. Some people I know don't even like hockey, yet they still buy NHL games every year because they are made well. I think it make just be easier from a cost standpoint for EA to just add in some bare bones options within career mode to make playing as an MLS team more palatable. I think all that you would need is some sort of salary cap structure put into the logic for just that league and a draft to take place. The game already generates fake names and backgrounds when you scout. I wouldn't think it'd be to hard for a basic draft to happen for just that league in career mode.
 
# 20 kerosene31 @ 04/03/13 10:16 AM
I'd love to see the MLS built out more realistically in Fifa 14.

As an American fan, I definitely wouldn't want a separate release. I'd rather keep a half-baked MLS option and still be able to play the rest of the world. I enjoy playing in the MLS, but not exclusively.
 

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