As the World Cup is just a week away, social game makers are all abuzz about which Facebook game is going to benefit the most. The first big soccer title, Bola, was initially developed by Three Melons then strategically acquired by Playdom. EA Sports and FIFA have teamed up (like usual) to bring FIFA Superstars to Facebook. Now, Fox Sports and Watercooler have entered the fray with Epic Goal. Which of these games has what it takes to win the World Cup of Facebook soccer games?
Before I get into the detailed comparison, let’s think a little about what the ideal World Cup game should be. It should be exciting and fun, and represent the nationalities of the competing countries. It should have action and strategy, but also a good dose of customization and light heartedness to break up the intense soccer action. It should be about sharing with friends, showing off to friends and meeting new friends. These are aspects of the World Cup experience that make it so exciting, and so I’m going to dive into each of these soccer games and see what I find.
FIFA Superstars by EA/Playfish
There’s no doubt that no game brings the roar of the crowd and the sense of pride like FIFA Superstars. You start the game and see the familiar EA logo, the logos of every soccer league in the world and get the blasting introduction music that EA prides itself on. The second you get in, it’s hard to deny, though, that this is not an action game, but is mainly a strategy, time management and resource management game. You’re required to make sure your team trains enough and increase their training level to increase their skills, you have to ensure that you play in the right leagues and improve to newer leagues, and the whole way you’re experiencing the same feeling you did when you used to trade soccer cards as a kid.
The fact that you can see players like David Beckham or Cristiano Ronaldo within the game itself, and even recruit them to your team gives the game a long term goal that neither of the other games can provide. You can really feel as if you’re commanding the most elite squad every to walk the Earth and pit them against your friends in the persistent FIFA Superstars world.
Relating to the World Cup, there’s a lot of speculation that FIFA Superstars will be celebrating the event with real world branding and real updates from the actual leagues. I’m not sure how they’re planning to operate this tournament and everyone is really curious, but as a former employee of EA who knows the EA Sports and Playfish guys, I wouldn’t be surprised if they’re hard at work at some sort of surprise as we speak.
Bola by Three Melons / Playdom
The first and arguably most in depth soccer experience on Facebook is definitely a place to get your kicks (pardon me) during World Cup season. The biggest differentiator between Bola and other soccer games on Facebook is that when you play a match in Bola, you actually get to control the players in real time. The game controls well and feels like playing FIFA on the consoles in the early 2000s. The game is 3D and really surprises most people at its depth and level of fun. Playing with a keyboard is still pretty awkward and shooting can be frustrating, but I’ve had some really good matches and enjoy the game immensely.
Bola also includes all the standard strategic elements, including winning money and upgrading your players, but also includes elements like your overall revenue from your stadium. You use some of your money to upgrade your stadium and ensure you get a better return on your investment. This element has great graphics in itself and the Three Melons team place the stadium within the context of a city, so you almost feel like you’re helping out the surrounding city by building up this awesome soccer stadium and team.
The Winning Goal by The9
Shanghai-based The9 recently released The Winning Goal, a soccer simulation game that leverages cartoony graphics, a pleasant graphics interface and an RPG style gameplay engine. The game delivers a very strategic soccer experience that revolves around real-time matches where users are able to watch their 5 man teams face off against one another and use small powerups and skills to win their games. It’s not a game that’s focused on realism but rather feels more like a strategy RPG where you constantly build up the formation and statistics, and your team feels more like a World of Warcraft character than a soccer team.
The Winning Goal has a skill tree that you slowly ascend as your players gain experience, and it gives them special moves which they use in the real-time demonstrated games. It’s a nice, fun element that adds a little variety to the games, but doesn’t really hold your attention all that long. Somehow, the games still end up feeling a bit flat and it can be hard to digest a loss because the opponent used a bunch of special skills and upset your team.
It doesn’t look like there will be much related specifically to the World Cup, but we’ll keep you posted if there is.
Epic Goal by Fox Sports / Watercooler
Epic Goal is a fun fantasy game where you feel almost like you’re training a team of lemmings soccer players. You train them on the pitch and tell them what to do, then watch them kick the ball around and see them grow in strength. Once they’re strong enough, you take them all out to a match where they run as a team but only perform actions when you click in real time. It’s very much a real-time soccer game but you don’t control a players’ movement, only who they pass to and where they shoot from. The rest is based on statistics, and does make for a compelling experience, although not as compelling as Bola. There’s still a lot to offer in the game, including a variety of stadium upgrades, great graphics and fun players.
It doesn’t look like Epic Goal has much, if any, tie into the real world and it’s doubtful that there will be more than some World Cup themed items during the World Cup, but there’s no doubt that the game may appeal to a casual audience who wants something more than just the team formation strategy.
At the end of the day, each of these games offers its own unique brand of soccer to the player. If you’re looking for authenticity, you need to play FIFA Superstars. If you’re looking for soccer action, it’s got to be Bola or Epic Goal. If you’re looking for casual soccer, it’s going to be The Winning Goal. My conclusion is that you’ve got to play a few rounds of each to find what you want. Let me know which one you prefer in the comments.