In a recent interview with Kiwi Talkz, the former Microsoft executive producer Garrett Young revealed that the company once cancelled a potential soccer game that was in development ahead of the launch of the Xbox as a condition to get EA to release its sports game on the console.
The topic came up roughly 26 minutes into the roughly 50-minute long interview (which is well worth watching in full) after the host Reece "Kiwi Talkz" Reilly remarked on the incredible number of genres Young has managed to work across within his career and asked him how he was able to pivot accordingly.
Young initially began answering the question, talking about his origins in developing a bunch of little-known sports games for PC, but then quickly got distracted after calling to mind a soccer project he had been working on at the company for the original Xbox.
For a short while, it seemed like he was going to drop the subject and get back on topic for fear of saying too much, but then fortunately, he changed his mind telling Reilly “This may be confidential but I’ll share it with you anyway”. He then proceeded to tell a story about how Microsoft believed the death of the Dreamcast had something to do with the lack of EA games on the console and that the executives inside the company at the time were reluctant to repeat the same mistake, so readily agreed to EA's request to can the project as part of its deal.
You can find a slightly edited version of the transcript below:
"I was working on a soccer game at the time [...] and Robbie Bach came in one day, who ended up being one of the four presidents of Microsoft or whatever. Good guy! He was like, ‘Hey guys, we need EA to support the Xbox. EA has not supported the Sega Dreamcast.’" EA had not supported the Dreamcast; Dreamcast died — some may say because the controller was really clunky. Fair. It actually worked okay for racing games. But others would say it was because it didn’t have FIFA, it didn’t have Madden. FIFA for international reasons. Madden for US reasons.
"They didn’t have any of the EA games because EA said, ‘Sega, we’re going to support your platform; no problem! But you’ve just got to give us this money. You’ve got to not charge us for the cassettes, the cartridges, the discs, whatever.’ All these things EA demanded. They said, ‘Your platform is going to die if we’re not on it.’ This is what EA said, right? I wasn’t in the meeting, but this is what I was told, and Sega said, ‘Whatever, no, we’re going to do it. We’ve got these games. We compete with you in these other areas. We’re going to be fine without you. We’ve been fine without you before. Whatever. Sega’s awesome. Woo-hoo!’ And I agree, Sega is awesome. But unfortunately, it didn’t turn out the way that they had hoped and they ended up killing the Dreamcast a few years later.
"Microsoft, and any smart executive, is going to say, ‘Let’s not kill our console before it comes out.’ I mean, the Dreamcast was cancelled like four months before the Xbox came out. We’d already done a bunch of PR. We did not want to follow the death of the Dreamcast and here we are launching a console six months/three months/whatever it is after Sega announced the end of theirs. So out of this infinite wisdom and all the execs’ infinite wisdom, they said, ‘Let’s do a deal with EA’ and one of EA’s requirements was […] no soccer game from Microsoft. No first-party soccer game. So that got canceled."
Sadly, Young doesn't go into much detail about the name of the project, but he did offer us a bit of a clue. In the same interview, he mentioned elsewhere that it was going to be a PC port of a pre-existing Microsoft football game which seems to hint the project was going to be an Xbox version of Rage Games' Microsoft International Soccer 2000.
Microsoft International Soccer 2000 was a sports game launched two years before the initial release of the Xbox for PC and got some fairly positive reviews from publications at the time. In fact, IGN's Uro Jojic believed that it could potentially grow into a contender for FIFA's crown, writing in February 2000:
"MS International Soccer 2000 is definitely worth giving a kick around — in a good way. If you are a fan of the game trying to break out from EA's hold on soccer titles, Rage Software's little baby just might be the right way to go. It's still suffering from growing pains, but given the right amount of feedback from the gaming community, some more funding, and a bit more time, the MS International Soccer series could very well turn out to be the first real competition to the EA FIFA powerhouse."
Looking back, it's quite sad that we didn't get to see the series mature and make the leap across to Microsoft's first console (with a part of us wondering what that timeline looks like), but it's arguably been more beneficial in the long run for Microsoft to work with EA rather than try and compete with them directly.