Fifteen generations of the world's most popular sports video game haven't incorporated female athletes — until now. Announced Thursday, the September release of FIFA 16 will star woman footballers alongside their male counterparts, in a game-changing move for video game creators and soccer fans. The announcement comes days before the Women's World Cup, which differs from last summer's men's World Cup in one significant way: Unlike the United States men's team, which only made it to the Round of 16 before losing to Belgium, the United States women's team has been slated as one of the very best in the championship, and a real contender to win the trophy.
It's impossible to underestimate the prevalence of FIFA the game (which shouldn't be confused with FIFA the association — the game uses FIFA's title and players, which FIFA allows, but is not otherwise associated with it) across the globe. It's available in more than 50 countries, and more than 100 million games have been sold since it was launched by EA Games (which you might know from The Sims) in 1993. At the time, it was the only major soccer video game of its kind, but has inspired a series of soccer franchises since. Joining the game now are 12 woman's soccer teams: Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, England, France, Germany, Italy, Mexico, Spain, Sweden, and the United States.
FIFA is known for its careful bringing to life of the world's most renowned soccer players, and so it utilized U.S. soccer stars Sydney Leroux, Abby Wambach, Alex Morgan, and Megan Rapinoe in the development of the game, according to an EA Games statement.
Said senior FIFA producer Nick Channon: "This is one of the most important features we’ve ever added to our game."
So, how close are the likenesses? Here's Christine Sinclair, captain of Canada's national soccer team, in real life...
And here she is reimagined in FIFA 16.
England caption Steph Houghton...
Here's Houghton in FIFA 16.
And here's the brand-new FIFA 16 trailer, featuring woman players declaring, "We're not here to stand and watch. This is our game too. The time has come."
It's a huge change, but it's also one that could have come sooner. After all, the United States won the Women's World Cup back in 1999, six years after the debut of FIFA, and in spite of the lack of popular interest in the women's version of the sport, the team has long been among the very best in the world. High-profile athletes like Hope Solo have helped drive attention to the sport, but the team has historically been underfunded.
According to EA Games, there are nearly 500,000 soccer matches played on FIFA every single minute. Until now, female players could only play as predetermined male athletes — but come September, thankfully, that's about to change.