The world got its first soccer NFT unicorn last year when France’s Sorare raised a massive $680 million round. Now a Swedish startup is also betting on the football-NFT combination to score success.
Gaming company GOALS is building a multiplayer soccer game where users can own players as NFTs. It positions itself as an alternative to the iconic soccer video game series FIFA. And despite very few details about gameplay and a plan not to license real players, it just raised a $15 million seed round.
“You have a huge incumbent in a monopoly position. In terms of gameplay, they are not innovative. They focus on revenue,” said co-founder and CEO Andreas Thorstensson of FIFA. (FIFA has 25 million users.)
“There, a startup has the chance to actually beat them. But we want to do it a little differently.”
Thorstensson says the company will have a rough internal version of the game ready this summer with a full product in two to three years.
The round was led by Northzone and previous investors Cherry Ventures, Moonfire Ventures and Banana Capital. Several high-profile angels also took part, including FC Barcelona star Gerard Pique, co-founder of Axie Infinity and COO Aleksander Larsen and co-founder of Sorare himself, Nicolas Julia.
So what is really different from FIFA?
For the uninitiated, video game giant Electronic Arts has spent nearly three decades trying to emulate football in the FIFA video game, in which users can play with real football players and clubs or create new teams. The game’s obsession with realism is so strong that they have a network of data evaluators to ensure that player stats such as stamina are realistic and up to date.
GOALS will be different in a number of ways. Firstly, it is not intended to license the use of real football players, given the enormous costs. Football’s governing body, FIFA, earned more than $150 million in 2020 from licenses, mostly from the video game of the same name. While Sorare has no actual gameplay – it’s a fantasy soccer platform – it also has expensive partnerships with dozens of the world’s top soccer leagues and clubs, allowing it to “coin” NFTs from popular players.
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Secondly, GOALS does not try to copy the highly realistic high-definition gameplay that is so characteristic of FIFA. Thorstensson says GOALS has “a more sort of arcade-style approach” and will “sacrifice the simulation aspect of FIFA”. That should make it more appealing to a wider audience, not just diehard football fans, he says.
GOALS released a trailer for the game, as well as some photos of shoes, but they don’t give much detail about what the game could look like in reality.
While both platforms allow players to earn and purchase in-game assets, GOALS says it also plans to give players the option to redeem their loot for real money – something that isn’t possible with a game like FIFA. GOALS users can purchase assets for sale by other users, on the open GOALS marketplace or on supported third-party marketplaces.
Users who own their GOALS players also offer the option of exporting them to other platforms or games, something that is not possible with a game like FIFA.
It’s also important to note that GOALS isn’t the only company trying to beat FIFA. There’s Pro Evolution Soccer (now eFootball) and smaller little players, like Strikerz Inc.’s UFL.
Community and diversity
Unlike traditional video games, GOALS wants its community of players to be involved in the development of the game from the start. It has a group of 8,000 fans on Discord and plans to give them access to early versions of the game for feedback, similar to how mobile games are developed.
Thorstensson also says he wants to make sure the game itself appeals to as wide a community as possible. One of their first hires was an inclusion leader,
“When I played [FIFA] with my daughters, back in the day, they asked me why they couldn’t play as women,” he says.
“Many games are not the best in terms of diversity and inclusion. From a financial point of view it makes no sense because there is a huge potential market, but from a human point of view it also makes no sense.”
GOALS is part of a new generation of Web3 companies emerging in Europe. Many are using blockchain technology to decentralize ownership of elements of their platform and engage fans more closely in product development – in stark contrast to so-called Web2 platforms such as Facebook and YouTube.
Gaming companies like unicorn Axie and GOALS have been major innovation engines in technology like NFTs, which investors say is a precursor to more mainstream applications.
Sifted FIFA fans Jonathan Sinclair and Kai Nicol-Schwarz contributed to this article.
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