This is not the first deal for Alex Hunter. When we were introduced to the fictional character in FIFA 17's The Journey game mode last year, we helped guide his rise to mega-stardom in virtual football and signed a deal with athletic clothing brand, Adidas.
This year the 'virtual athlete' is endorsed by drinks brand Coca-Cola, in an effort to push the company's Coca-Cola Zero brand. The in-game fictional character will not be seen drinking any other drink at all, as Hunter revitalises his fictional football career in the US MLS league.
Just in case you think this sounds a bit crazy, here's the basic breakdown. Essentially Coca-Cola has signed a deal (figures were not disclosed, sadly) with Electronic Arts for a fictional character to represent their drink in the game. Of course, product placement and endorsements happen all the time (Lara Croft's Lucozade adverts anyone?) but this deal, the first of its kind for Coca-Cola, is putting the drinks company firmly at the centre of the game narrative.
Matt Wolf, VP for entertainment, ventures and strategic alliance at Coca-Cola Co., spoke to E.J. Schultz from website Ad Age about the deal. "Unless he has some sort of sentient AI that wakes up and goes rogue on us, we are pretty safe," he told the site jokingly. "But brand safety was not Coke's motivation for doing the deal with Electronic Arts. Hunter represents "the core of our DNA, He is the democratization of football stars. Everybody that plays 'The Journey' really falls in love with Alex and embodies themselves into his persona."
The Journey is an RPG-lite game mode in FIFA 18 that takes elements from Bioware's conversation selection tool and applies it to a narrative story about the rise of a footballer, Alex Hunter. The player controls Hunter in the football games and also has some selection about deals, transfers and the business life of the 'virtual athlete'. All and sundry from the world of football make cameo appearances like Real Madrid's Christiano Ronaldo. Essentially establishing Alex Hunter and The Journey as close to the reality of the sport as possible.
It's unlikely that we'll see many other 'virtual athletes' get endorsement deals from real-life companies as there aren't many, if any, 'virtual athletes' out there. But it does make you wonder where the line gets drawn. What other games will have endorsement potential with their characters and what companies would be able to put their brand into the narrative of a video game? The only recent one that springs to mind is The Perfect Cup quest in Final Fantasy XV where Gladiolus makes you collect ingredients to create a Cup Noodle, an instant ramen noodle snack made by Japanese company Nissin.