(Paris) Kobe Bryant for the NBA 2K24 basketball simulation, Pelé and Johan Cruyff among the “icons” of the new EA Sports FC… Sports video game publishers are relying on old glories to target an “intergenerational” audience. .

These two very popular titles have relied this year on covers that look like they are back to the future: on the one hand, the legendary Lakers player (1996-2016) tragically disappeared in a helicopter accident in 2020.

On the other, a photomontage with big names in soccer like Pelé, Zinédine Zidane or Ronaldinho posing alongside new stars Erling Haaland or Alexia Putellas, double women’s Golden Ball.

Their respective American publishers, Take-Two and Electronic Arts, have long used these famous names to promote their games, sometimes even devoting a dedicated game mode to them. Last year, for example, Michael Jordan was in the spotlight in NBA 2K23.

In the United States, the main series of video games on football, the most popular sport there, even borrows the name of a former coach – who died in 2021 – John Madden.

Injured just after joining a professional club as a player, without ever playing in an NFL championship game, he enjoyed a successful career on the field, before retiring in the late 1970s and becoming a sports commentator.

Why such positioning? These “powerful marketing resources” serve to “unite the fan bases” of these games, by playing on the “intergenerational side with a little nostalgia”, explains Julien Pillot, economist specializing in cultural industries, to AFP.

While using the image of these athletes can be expensive, this is “more than offset” by the sales it generates. Not to mention the microtransactions linked to the purchase of “cards” in the game, in order to unlock additional content, continues the expert.

“My seven-year-old only really knows Pelé because he’s awesome on EA Sports FC. […] We allowed fans to experience what it could be like to play with these athletes,” David Jackson, vice president of the EA Sports FC brand, told AFP.

Beyond the financial aspect, appearing in these simulations becomes a way for former athletes to stay connected as closely as possible to young audiences.

Asked whether FIFA, the former name of EA Sports FC, has allowed it to become better known to new generations, Zinédine Zidane agrees.

” Yes quite. That’s how they knew me, because it’s true that 8-10 year old kids – unless their dads told them: “I followed him (at the time )” – don’t know me. It’s (more) through the PlayStation and so it’s quite funny. Now I’m used to it,” the former Real Madrid player and coach told AFP in June.

“With a certain generation, people know me for what I did on the pitch. What is interesting today is that there is recognition through (video games),” added Robert Pirès, also world champion in 1998, last Thursday during the launch evening of FC 24 in Paris.

“It’s funny because three weeks ago, I stopped a 12-year-old boy, asking him: “But how do you know me?”. He said to me: “I played FIFA with you”. I ask him: “Am I good?”, “Yes you are good but you are slow!” », Said the former Arsenal player.