“EA Sports, it’s in the game”. This iconic line sounds very familiar to millions of people around the world. It has been part of the opening sequence of every EA Sports-entry since the mid-1990s and represents the unparalleled level of authenticity the Canada-based producer strives for in their sports games. The oldest sub-series among these EA Sports-games is FIFA. Over the years, this game series manifested itself as one of the most lucrative, best-selling and popular video game franchises in the history of gaming. A key factor in their success is the abundance of officially licensed players, kits, stadiums, clubs, leagues and tournaments from which gamers can choose. Despite this asset, only a handful Indonesians have appeared in the games throughout the years. Today, we are going to explore the Indonesian representation in this game series and the impact of FIFA on the Indonesian gaming market.
Only for the best
As mentioned earlier in this article, EA Sports possess a large number of licenses. This enables the producers the rights to implement the names, likeness and images of footballers and clubs into their games, which in turn enhances the authenticity and simulation of professional football in general. The game producers mainly acquired these rights through their long-term agreement with FIFpro, which acts as an international footballers’ union and represents more than 65.000 players worldwide. This partnership that began in the 90s proved to be crucial to the growth of their pool of licensed players, as an increasing number of athletes joined this organization in later years.
However, in order to be fully integrated into the games, the company has to negotiate on an individual basis with league operators, club administrators and sometimes even players. The time, money and effort associated with these discussions complicate the licensing process and limit EA’s ability to (annually) expand its certified content. Furthermore, the quality of a league, its players and the corresponding demand from gamers are also factors that need to be taken into account before EA considers investing in these licenses. The costs related with this type of content can reach millions of dollars, constituting the majority of the game’s total development budget. EA therefore has to calculate the potential benefits and costs and prefers to include the strongest and most profitable leagues in their games, such as the English Premier League and Saudi Professional League respectively. This also explains the minor representation of Indonesian players in the world’s most popular sports game series. The Indonesian league is simply not (yet) competitive or lucrative enough to be added to the game and the only Indonesian players who are included play (or played) in overseas leagues.
The hope of 270 million people
The small number of Indonesian footballers in FIFA is unfortunately in line with the real-life scarcity of such players in foreign competitions. This rarity is undeniably disappointing, especially considering the many passionate football fans in Indonesia, but it is all the more interesting to take a look at those lucky enough to actually make it to the game. Below is an overview of every regular FIFA player (in career mode and later ‘seasons’ mode) who at the time of writing this has ever played under the Indonesian flag at some point during their career. This excludes some players, like Tobias Waisapy and Jason Oost who never possessed Indonesian passports, but were accidentally registered as Indonesians due to incorrect information on their respective Wikipedia pages.
Although the list is short and not very competitive, it is nevertheless interesting, as it offers local gamers the opportunity to represent Indonesia and start a fantasy career mode around their fellow countrymen. A footballer’s relatively low attributes can be improved over the course of his fictional career. This also applies to his in-game performances and eventual achievements, as everything relies on the skills of the gamer controlling them. The prospect of (digitally) winning the UEFA Champions League with an Indonesian footballer gives many young Indonesians a sense of excitement and challenge, which is essentially what gaming is all about.
FUD (FIFA Ultimate Dream): Timnas winning the World Cup!
The players in the chart appear in the regular, annual FIFA game that releases on various gaming platforms. However, this is not the only connection between Indonesia and this gaming franchise. EA Sports has also acquired the rights to produce content around the FIFA World Cup. As such, they published standalone FIFA World Cup-based video games from 1998 until 2014 and free downloadable content as part of FIFA 18 in 2018. The main goal of this game is to provide gamers a simulation of the unique World Cup experience. This includes aspects, like realistic World Cup stadiums, full qualifying cycles and, most importantly, licensed national teams and players. In addition to the already established national teams that appear in the yearly version, this game also adds the lesser known (weaker) squads participating in the ‘Road to the FIFA World Cup’, like for example Belize, Mauritania and Tajikistan.
Indonesia was also included in three iterations of this game, namely the 1998, 2010 and 2014 releases. The footballers were officially licensed, but the kits were not, so Merah Putih (the Red and White, one of the nicknames of the Indonesian national team) played in generic jerseys, trousers and boots. Nevertheless, it was very exciting to try out the likes of Ponaryo Astaman, Rochy Putiray and Bambang Pamungkas in these games and listen to (a part of) Indonesia Raya (national anthem) before the kick-off of each match. This level of faithfulness largely made up for the far from stellar in-game statistics each player had. The incredible journey from the first qualifying round to winning matches against football giants, such as Germany and Brazil in the finals could be very memorable to gamers from developing countries.
These games also offered story-driven challenges based on real world developments. An example of this is the chance to rewrite the fate of Indonesia’s devastating 10-0 defeat to Bahrain in 2011. A whole new dimension of immersion opens with this game mode, which is entertaining for football lovers. However, it is very disappointing that EA decided to discontinue this tradition of incorporating more national teams in favor of the more financially lucrative Ultimate Team modes in the latest release in 2018. This trend is also evident in the mainstream FIFA games, as there has been a very marginal increase in the number of licenses in recent years or EA even lost some to rivals.
FIFA in the Indonesian gaming market
The role of FIFA in the Indonesian gaming market is also important to clarify. In Indonesia, the majority of the people cannot afford a video gaming platform due to the relatively high retail prices of these imported goods compared to the average monthly income per capita. That is why the youth usually gather in special local gaming cafés (warung rental) where they rent long play sessions for a cheap price. The mixture of enjoying popular video games with friends in a physical environment turned out to be successful. This gaming phenomenon became widespread in Indonesia in the 1990s and 2000s along with the emergence of popular (local or online) multiplayer games, such as FIFA and World of Warcraft. These gaming cafés sometimes hosted competitive regional tournaments in which talented gamers could battle against each other. A whole generation of Indonesian boys grew up playing in such places, even to the extent that it seemed problematic to the parents. Nevertheless, the feelings of happiness, excitement and joy reigned among the children.
Interestingly, the position of FIFA was comparatively weak at the time. This is due to a combination of persistent piracy in the country and the dominance of Japanese competitor Winning Eleven (known in Western markets as Pro Evolution Soccer). Piracy is a widespread phenomenon endemic to developing states whose citizens are not aware of the negative consequences for creators and publishers. Aside from the financial drawbacks, it also affects their future marketing and sales strategies. EA was a bit hesitant about releasing FIFA in Indonesia at some point and as such did not promote the game as strongly as in other regions.
In addition, Winning Eleven was more popular for its ability to add local content updates. Domestic game modifiers responded to the demand for Indonesian players and teams by adding them through these ‘content packs’. These unofficial Timnas and Super League versions of Winning Eleven outplayed FIFA in the heyday of the warung rentals, especially given the Indonesians’ incredible in-game player stats.
Nowadays, the phenomenon of these traditional warung rentals is slowly disappearing due to the rise of online mobile games on smartphones. The general access to the internet improved along with the time as well, prompting children to play at home and making these shops a bit redundant. On the other hand, with the shift to online multiplayer gaming, interests in online gaming competitions and tournaments (eSports) also grew. This emerging segment of the entertainment industry is a thriving multi-million business with a promising potential in Indonesia.
In light of the bright prospects, the Indonesian football association (PSSI) recently launched an official FIFA eSports tournament for Liga 1 and 2 clubs. Perhaps shop owners can also adjust to these new circumstances and adapt their warungs to host local online gaming tournaments with high-speed internet connection as the main service.
Revival of FIFA?
All in all, Indonesia has a marginal, but existing representation in the FIFA video game series. The number of Indonesian footballers in the regular gaming series is limited, because the developer has opted for stronger or more profitable licensed leagues rather than developing ones, like the Liga 1. The country’s hopes lie in a select group of Indonesians who have the honor to play in foreign competitions, such as Egy Maulana Vikri and Sergio van Dijk. This small representation is a shame, because playing with their sports idols can be very entertaining to gamers. Unlike the mainstream games, the quadrennial World Cup editions include the Indonesian national team and offer their entire journey to winning the world’s biggest tournament. Despite this, FIFA is not as popular as Winning Eleven in the country’ gaming cafés. This could change in the near future, as eSports is shaping the gaming industry in a new direction in which FIFA tries to play a big role by hosting competitive tournaments around the world, including Indonesia. This will hopefully increase the local interests in the football game series and eventually realize the dream of both every Indonesian football lover and gamer: officially licensing the Indonesian Liga 1.