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

FC24 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, later versions of the franchise also allowed players to test their mettle as a manager. To win, you must balance 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. With millions of copies sold in its 30+ years on the market, the reach of the EA soccer franchise 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.

FC24 eases players into negotiations via the transfer system. The first step in acquiring a new player is to negotiate the transfer fee paid to their existing club. While you can offer a player swap, more can be learned by sticking to making a financial offer. Students will quickly realize, as I did, that the response to an unreasonable offer is an abandoned negotiation and no chance to sit down and attempt to acquire the player. However, by limiting the negotiation to price, the game helps make your first negotiation experience fairly straightforward. Plus, some players have a transparent release clause that you can choose to pay up front, or attempt to negotiate it down with that initial anchor in mind.

Screenshot of a tv with a soccer field overlaid with negotiation options.

Figure 1: “FC24 transfer fee scene.” EA Sports, 2024. Author’s screenshot.

Learning Takeaways

  1. Zone of Potential Agreement (ZOPA): Because students generally want the transfer to move forward, they should try to ensure that their offer lies within the ZOPA, or fairly close to its lower bound.
  2. Best Alternative To a Negotiated Agreement (BATNA): The release clause is a pre-established transfer price in place to provide players with more control regarding future transfers. These clauses represent the club’s BATNA, and students can use it to get a sense of the transfer price bargaining zone.

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

Once they’ve mastered the basics, FC24 allows students to step into more robust negotiations that span issues beyond the transfer fee.

Screenshot of a soccer ball in front of a window with closed captions of the audio that indicates that the negotiation is abandoned.

Figure 2: “FC24 abandoned negotiation scene.” EA Sports, 2024. Author’s screenshot.

Learning Takeaways

  1. Positions, Interests, and Preparation: Students can invest in scouting to understand the player’s financial value, but also the career development interests that play a role in the negotiation. This will allow students to distinguish the positions that the players may request during the negotiation, from what they are likely willing to accept as they pursue their interests.
  2. Issue Types: In FC24, three issue types are in play: distributive, integrative and compatible. To be successful, students must correctly identify issue types and use integrative bargaining tactics to maximize their outcome. The players role on the team is often compatible, while the team and player can often expand the pie by trading-off on integrative issues like the release clause, contract length, and bonus. However, sometimes negotiations do stalemate due to salary, the core distributive issue in this game.
  3. Extreme Offers and the Chilling Effect: It’s important to highlight that players will storm out of a negotiation in cases with extreme offers. Students can avoid having players walk away from the table by keeping their positions within the ZOPA.
Screenshot of two people shaking hands.

Figure 3: “FC24 successful negotiation scene.” EA Sports, 2024. Author’s screenshot.

Okay, so what’s the catch?

Despite being head over heels for game-based learning, we’ll be the first to highlight FC24’s shortcomings as a teaching tool. In the multi-issue negotiations, the order in which issues are negotiated is set, making it more challenging to leverage different types of issues. Moreover, salary and bonus are the only issues that are packaged together and that permit various counteroffers. This is largely because the dialogue structure and navigation are relatively rigid, which also makes MESOs (multiple equivalent simultaneous offers) and renegotiating agreed upon issues impossible. In spite of these gameplay tradeoffs, FC24 remains a potentially powerful tool to get students to engage with a number of core negotiation concepts.

A few final thoughts

Despite these drawbacks, we believe FC24 could serve as an engaging class assignment that puts your students’ skills to the test. In addition, the latest version of the franchise provides immediate feedback regarding how much students overpaid, motivating them to continue honing their skills on future transfers.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 and it has been updated to reflect the latest version of the EA soccer video game franchise.