There are a few dates in the football calender – the Champions League final, transfer deadline day, FA Cup third round weekend – that will be marked down by fans as a day to savour and anticipate.
And every year, the argument that the release of video game Fifa and it’s rival Pro Evolution Soccer should be added to that list, grows stronger.
Last year, Fifa 12 saw sales of 3.2 million in its first week of availability. At a retail price of around £40 in the UK, that’s a revenue of £128 million. That puts it on a par in monetary terms with the all-time US opening weekend box office record. Staggering.
And yet the release of a new Fifa or PES installment does not promise the surprises of a new blockbuster. The majority of those who purchase the latest in the series will already own the previous version. Wide ranging changes are never the order of the day, but rather the game is ever so slightly tweaked to improve the gameplay, usually with the odd addition of a new playing mode.
But despite this, fans will be flocking to video game stores across the country to snap up Fifa 13 which was released on Friday. And it is quite possible new sales records will be broken – one trailer for Fifa 13 has over 4.6 million hits on YouTube.
It is almost impossible to understand quite what the lure of these games are, and yet when I first put Fifa 13 in my Xbox earlier this week, I couldn’t wait for the loading to be over so I could start playing. I was desperate to begin giving my favoured team, Fulham, a run out, particularly with the new addition of Dimitar Berbatov to the attack. And in a case of art imitating life, the Cottagers’ new No 9 scored twice on his home debut. I am hooked, yet again.
Perhaps it is the control of one’s team’s destiny that is so appealing. Fulham will never win the Premier League in real life, nor will they win the Champions League – but all these dreams are made possible by video games. A new feature means Fifa 13 will even allow me to manage England, and presuming the FA don’t have my number, this is probably the closest I’ll ever get.
Pitting your wits against fellow football fans is surely another draw. Every year, fantasy football games seem to grow in terms of participation as grown men frantically make virtual substitutions as they put together a team capable of scoring more points than their mates. The numbers of people who have thrown away their university years dedicating themselves to Championship Manager are countless. As I fiddle with my formation and tactics ahead of playing Fifa on two player, there is a small part of me that thinks I’m Jose Mourinho. And I like it.
There is of course the fact playing Fifa or PES are a quite brilliant way of wasting time. With little live football to watch on television, the realism created by the insanely brilliant graphics and commentary from the likes of Clive Tyldesley and Alan Smith provide a decent substitute.
As with all obsessions, they rarely make sense. But that won’t be what millions of gamers are mulling over this weekend. Instead they will be locked in doors, suspending their belief and imagining for a moment they are Lionel Messi.