Alex Morgan, Abby Wambach and the rest of the U.S. women’s national soccer team will be one of 12 female squads in the next release of EA Sports’ FIFA video game.
It’s the first time the world’s highest-selling sports video game franchise has included female players.
The product announcement comes a day after two current FIFA vice presidents were among 14 people indicted by U.S. prosecutors investigating what they called “rampant, systemic and deep-rooted” corruption in the sport dating back to 1991.
EA Sports typically releases the newest FIFA version each September, and the company has long planned to reveal its latest product update on Thursday. It didn’t see the indictments as a reason to postpone the news of female players because the scandal doesn’t affect how people view and play the game, according to Will Alexander of FleishmanHillard, a public relations firm for EA Sports.
“This is one of the most important features we’ve ever added to our game,” senior producer Nick Channon said in an interview.
FIFA 16, scheduled for release in September, will feature 12 women’s national teams, including the U.S., Canada, and top-ranked Germany. Japan, which will defend its World Cup title next month, isn’t included due to licensing issues, Channon said.
The FIFA franchise is the top seller for Redwood City, California-based Electronic Arts Inc., according to Chief Financial Officer Blake Jorgensen. The games typically sell about 20 million units, he said.
“We’re all excited to see ourselves in the game, but even more excited to see the reaction from all of the fans,” Wambach, the career goal-scoring leader in U.S. women’s soccer, said in a statement.
There has been a public outcry for female inclusion in the FIFA video game franchise as the popularity of the women’s sport has increased. One petition on the website Change.org had more than 13,000 supporters.
“We’ve been looking at this for a while, and it was making sure we had the right technology in place,” Channon said. “But obviously we’re always listening to what people are saying.”
EA Sports began prototyping female characters in the last few years, according to the producer, starting with a woman’s face on a male body. Development continued from there to create a more realistic virtual female player.
Women featured in the FIFA 16 game were digitally scanned and their motions were captured this spring to create more unique body types, player movements -- like running and walking -- that are specific to a woman’s gait, and flowing ponytails. Hair movement was a new challenge for game makers, as the added video rendering requirements to animate hair meant the game needed to be optimized to run smoothly.
Other alterations included changing announcer calls in all the game’s available languages to say “she” instead of “he,” and a new player rating system to be more reflective of the women’s game.
The 2015 Women’s World Cup begins June 6 in Canada. The finals for the 24-team tournament, played in six cities, will be held July 5 in Vancouver.
The 12 teams to appear in FIFA 16 are Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, England, France, Germany, Italy, Mexico, Spain, Sweden, and the U.S.
Women’s teams in the game will only be able to play against other women’s teams. They will be included in some gameplay modes, such as Kick Off and online play, but not all.
In 2013, FIFA accounted for 27 percent of EA’s new revenue and 23 percent of its gross profits, according to Forbes Magazine. The company also makes the Madden football games and those for the National Basketball Association and National Hockey League.
Nike Inc. this year began selling women’s U.S. national team jerseys to men. The Women’s World Cup has been held every four years since 1991.