Kobe Bryant on the cover of the basketball game “NBA 2K24“, Pelé and Johan Cruyff among the icons of the new “EA FC24”. Sports video game publishers are betting on old glories to appeal to an “intergenerational” audience.
Bryant, legendary Lakers player (1996-2016) who died in a helicopter crash in 2020, is the cover athlete for NBA 2K24.
And two of the world’s best footballers, Pelé and Johan Cruyff, receive a posthumous tribute with their figures featured on the cover of EA Sports’ FC24, alongside new faces like Erling Haaland and Alexia Putellas.
Their respective American publishers, Take-Two and Electronic Arts, have long been using famous names to promote their games, sometimes even dedicating a specific game mode to them.
Last year, for example, Michael Jordan was the star of “NBA 2K23”. Julien Pillot, an economist specializing in cultural industries, explained that the endorsement of great legends is a powerful marketing tool.
In his view, the often-huge cost of obtaining permission to use their images is “more than offset” by the sales they generate, both from the games themselves and from the “cards” required to unlock additional content.
Video game companies capitalize on the “intergenerational aspect” and add “a touch of nostalgia”, says Pillot.
Staying in Touch
Beyond the financial aspect, appearing in these simulations is a way for former athletes to stay in touch with younger audiences.
French football legend, Zinédine Zidane, said in June that many young children now know him largely because of his appearance in “EA Sports FC“, formerly known as “FIFA”.
“Eight to ten-year-old kids don’t know me, unless their parents have told them about what I did in my day,” said the 1998 World Cup winner. “They mostly know me through PlayStation [games]. It’s kind of funny. I’m used to it.”It’s a strategy that executives are unabashed in highlighting.
“My seven-year-old son only knows who Pelé is because of his incredible stats in FC,” said David Jackson, vice president of the EA Sports FC brand.
According to him, this game has allowed fans to feel a bit of the magic of playing with stars from previous generations. And it works both ways, according to some of the stars involved, even those who don’t have as high a score as Pelé.
“People from a certain generation know me for what I did on the field. What’s interesting is that today they know you through “, said Robert Pires, also a 1998 World Cup champion, last Thursday at the launch party for EA’s game in Paris.
A 12-year-old boy recently told Pires that he only found out who he was by playing the video game. “I asked him: ‘Am I good?’ He said: ‘You’re good, but you’re slow'”, recounted the Frenchman, a former Arsenal player.