With the football season well underway, many fans across Malta are switching on their TVs to tune into games, planning afternoons at pubs, and flocking to stadiums to watch their favourite teams.
Given how football mad the country is, it comes as no surprise that there is also a large portion of the fanbase that plays videogames based on the sport. And there is arguably no game that is more synonymous with football than EA Sports’ FIFA series.
First released in 1993, the series has stood the test of time, undergoing significant changes over the years, with different editions coming out annually for various generations of consoles, all prompting excitement across global football fanatics, including in Malta.
One videogame store which has been a key player in bringing this enthusiasm about the series to Malta is Gamebreaker, a store in Birkirkara which was founded around 12 years ago by Charlot Azzopardi. Originally a one-man team aimed at selling esports and gaming-related merchandise via delivery services and social media, the store has now become widely popular with local gamers.
Gamebreaker Malta's exterior
Speaking to WhosWho.mt, Mr Azzopardi recalled how Gamebreaker started selling FIFA as soon as the store opened, “back in the Sony PlayStation 3 console era”.
“Undoubtedly, FIFA is the highest-selling game of the year. Saying this, we handle pre-orders of the game many months prior to the initial release date, mainly focusing on uploading and promoting the game through all of our social media and website so that customers are informed and aware about it,” he explained.
During the pre-order period, customers can either call the shop to complete the booking, or they can book it from Gamebreaker’s website themselves so that they can decide “whether they want it delivered or to pick it up from the store”.
Mr Azzopardi said that on the game’s release day, all of the team members tend to be working, as “it is always one of the busiest days of the year, on par with Black Friday”. He remarked that the whole team is present so that they can do their “utmost best” to keep all of Malta’s “FIFA enthusiasts happy”.
However, this year’s game, which is set to be released on 29th September, will be different from the rest.
EA Sports, the American company responsible for the development and publishing of the widely-loved football game franchise, announced last year that it had terminated its licensing agreement with football governing body FIFA after 30 years, meaning FIFA 23 was the last entry to the series with the FIFA name. Following that, EA Sports opted to launch its own series independent from FIFA, under the name EA Sports FC.
However, the reception has been mixed.
“This year, like previous ones, we had many pre-orders booked. However, compared to other years, there was a slight decrease, primarily due to the game’s title change from FIFA to EA Sports FC, and some fans are still in doubt,” Mr Azzopardi said.
As a result, certain gamers are “waiting for after the release date to decide whether or not to purchase it”.
Global sales of physical copies have also not been helped by the increasing availability of digital-only versions of game consoles, including Microsoft’s Xbox Series S and Sony’s PlayStation 5. These consoles do not have disc drives, and hence require users to purchase downloadable versions of games from online stores.
Gamebreaker Malta's interior
This is something that is impacting videogame stores, as in the past, games like FIFA used to have several editions such as Standard and Ultimate, but Mr Azzopardi explained that today, physical stock has now become “limited” as the Standard edition is the only physical version available. Other editions which contain in-game bonuses are now only digital.
“Apart from that fact, with the release of the digital version of the PlayStation 5, in particular, customers who bought that console are only limited to buying the game digitally. Therefore, that has had another major impact on the sales of physical versions,” he said.
Gamebreaker Malta's interior
Despite this, the end of the year tends to still be an exciting time for videogame stores, with a number of studios and developers choosing to release games towards the final few months of the year. Aside from EA Sports FC, the latter stages of 2023 will also see the releases of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare III and Assassin’s Creed Mirage, two heavily anticipated games.
Asked whether there are any games which are generating similar levels of excitement as EA Sports FC, Mr Azzopardi stated that the football game is “without a doubt” the one that is generating the most hype, even though Call of Duty and Assassin’s Creed are “at the top of the list as well”.
“Honourable mention has to go to Grand Theft Auto (GTA), as it’s been more than 10 years since the previous game, GTA V, was released, and people are still buying it to this day. As soon as GTA VI is announced, I am 100 per cent positive that it will be the highest selling game of the year once again, even more than EA Sports FC,” he concluded.