FIFA is published in a new version every single year, following a tradition we see in many sports franchises including the NBA (Basketball), NFL (American Football), and even PCM (Pro Cycling). The games are sold at typical AAA price and sometimes the changes and improvements from one year to the next are slight. I suggest, a part of our purchasing motivation is linked to the novelty-habituation cycle.
One could argue that these annual video game releases are merely money-grabbing mechanisms in place to profit from sports fans, year in and year out, with a minimum amount of effort. But there is more to it than mere profit, although that naturally plays a part. You have to ask, why does FIFA not simply update the squads in all of their games? That would offer more replay value. They could, but I believe, even if EA were to update the FIFA-squads of one or two years earlier versions, the value added to the player-base would be limited as most of the people who currently buy the new version every year would still do so. But why?
It may be closely connected to the novelty-habituation cycle and how this cycle functions in football. In the world of sports, we follow our favourite teams, celebrate the victories and feel the bitter disappointment of a bad result. The season can be a rollercoaster ride of excitement, games to look forward to every week across numerous tournaments, and suddenly toward the end of spring it is all over – the season has ended. The transfer window opens and we eagerly await the beginning of the new season. The new season promises new beginnings and fresh hope – there is always a certainly novelty to this yearly beginning of the season.
Now, there is lots of sports science on why we play and consume sport as onlookers to the extent that we do, which I will not approach here. But the sports season does work nicely with our inclination to consume entertainment based on novelty and habituation, which remains today’s focus. The habituation of sport is present in the way the sport and its core rules always remain the same. We know what the game is about and the fundamentals of how it is played. During a season we follow the team closely, and see how the players develop. Growing attached to the team and their seasonal campaign brings a sense of habituation, something known that we appreciate. However, you never know what might happen in a football game, or any sport, which introduces novelty. Humans tend to enjoy the things we already know – knowing what to expect and how it will affect us emotionally – it can have a reinforcing effect on us. Hence why we tend to read the same book over and over, or watch the same TV-show or film more than once. You might say it is a way to reassure who we are and what we like in life. Too much habituation and we grind to a halt, a standstill, and might get bored, which is why novelty and introduction of the new and unpredictable is appealing. The novelty-habituation cycle is therefore a constant balance and flow back and forth between the things we know and seeking new impressions and experiences. How much we crave the one or the other differs from person to person closely connected to our personality. This can come into effect in how we act and react through daily life, but is also clearly seen in the way we consume media and entertainment.
The new season begins and brings a sense of novelty with it; a person’s excitement and attachment to the game, the sport, is not to be underestimated. I believe this is also the reason many buy the new version of FIFA every year. Just as with the sport, the game is appealing because it comes with a promise of a new and exciting season. Many elements in the game are as we know them from previous versions, which speaks to habituation, but every game introduces new features and feels different to the previous version in the way it plays. Play the game a lot and you will experience these nuances in gameplay all the more and feel the novelty of the newly introduces changes.
And so many people find themselves in a cycle that closely follows the sporting season, buying the annual version to follow the real-life season and experience the novelty of the new version, and playing it throughout the year building a sense of habituation that eventually leads to us being more likely to buy next year’s version in order to once again gain that appealing sense of novelty and excitement of something new to explore and master.
Do you agree or disagree with this theory? Let me know in the comments section.