tl;dr: FIFA’s soccer video game offers a safe, engaging laboratory for students to implement some basic negotiations principles.  The game is available on various digital platforms which makes it a readily accessible tool for learners studying negotiations online. 

FIFA 18 is a recent installment of the soccer/fútbol franchise that reigns as the best-selling sports video game of all time.  Most of the game, as you would expect, revolves around soccer. However, central to your success is your performance as a general manager.  To win, you must manage salaries and other issues related to your team’s contracts and transfers, thus creating a dynamic laboratory to reflect upon a number of negotiations teaching points.

At more than 24 million copies sold, Fifa has reached almost as many users as the total population of students enrolled on campus in the US.  That also means that chances are good that some of your students already have access to this little known treasure trove of negotiations challenges.

Video games for homework?  Really? How?

Let’s break down the in-game experience and outline its core negotiating exercises and learning takeaways.

FIFA 18 eases players into negotiations via the transfer system.  When a new player is up for transfer from another team, you can engage with them about joining your team with a salary discussion.

In this scenario, players establish an initial offer as well as a ceiling/floor price. By limiting the negotiation to price, the game helps make your first experiences fairly straightforward.

Learning Takeaways

  1. Bargaining Zones: Student-managers build their own bargaining zone when they establish the range between their start offer and ceiling/floor.  Transferred players also have a Bargaining Zone for target salary.
  2. Zone of Potential Agreement (ZOPA) : Because student-managers generally want the transfer to succeed, they try to ensure the overlap between their bargaining zone and their target player’s is as broad as possible.
  3. Preparation Checklist: Players invest in scouting to know where to anchor the negotiation and understand the ZOPA.
  4. Best Alternative To a Negotiated Agreement (BATNA) : Within each negotiation is the traded player’s Buy-out Clause. These clauses represent their BATNA, and student-managers will need to adjust their bargaining zones appropriately. Otherwise they are better off simply paying the clause figure and skipping the negotiation!

Sure, but that’s too easy!  What about multi-issue negotiations?

Once they’ve mastered the basics, FIFA 18 allows student-managers to step into more robust negotiations that span issues beyond salary.

Learning Takeaways

  1. Positions vs. Interests: In career mode, managers are assigned objectives that go beyond wins and losses. These objectives represent the interests of each manager, and by understanding these interests student-managers will be better prepared to negotiate a successful transfer.
  2. Issue Types: In FIFA18, three issue types are in play: distributive, integrative and compatible.  To be successful, student-managers must correctly identify issue types and use integrative bargaining tactics to maximize their outcome. However, sometimes negotiations reach a stalemate due to the two distributive issues: Salary and Bonus.
  3. Extreme Offers and the Chilling Effect: It’s important to highlight that star-players will storm out of a negotiation in cases with extreme offers.  Student-managers can avoid having players walk away from the table by keeping their positions within the ZOPA.

Okay, so what’s the catch?

Despite being head over heels for game-based learning, we’ll be the first to highlight FIFA 18’s shortcomings as a teaching tool.  In multi-issue negotiations, the dialogue is always issue-by-issue, meaning that package deals and MESOs (multiple equivalent simultaneous offers) can’t be used.  In addition, once an issue is agreed upon there’s no going back which is a poor reflection of how negotiations work in reality.

A few final thoughts

Despite these drawbacks, we believe FIFA 18 could serve as an engaging class assignment that puts your students’ skills to the test. We know instructors are working hard to adapt to virtual classes, and less traditional resources like these may help facilitate that process. Game on and good luck!

A version of this post was originally published on 21 March 2019.