The PES Rebrand: Game Over or a True Rebuild?

A major change to the PES gaming franchise has been announced – but is it too little, too late?

PES Screenshot

A major change to the PES gaming franchise has been announced – but is it too little, too late?

A week or two after the news that the new FIFA game, cunningly called FIFA 22, is set to sell for the best part of £100 comes the news that its last rival standing of note is going the other way.

A bit of scene-setting might be required. Football-leaning gamers throughout the 2000s were well versed in the annual squabble between EA Sports’ FIFA series and Konami’s Pro Evolution Soccer (which itself spun out of its earlier International Superstar Soccer series, and ultimately became known as PES. Oh, and it’s known as Winning Eleven in its native Japan).

FIFA, if you like, was the big club with the huge benefactor. EA splashed out on official names and glossy visuals. PES was a bit more of a Leicester City, making a lot out of fewer resources on paper. In fact, for many years, PES was the connoisseur’s game of choice. 

Yet the demands of developing for more and more advanced gaming machines ultimately saw PES lose its footing, and for the last decade or so, FIFA has been the undoubted commercial winner, and oftentimes the critical champion too. Try as it might – and oftentimes it’s scrambled back to being the best game to play – PES couldn’t dislodge it. FIFA kept extending its lead, and it all seems to have now come to a head.

PES 2017 Gameplay

The cost of competition

Konami then has gone a bit leftfield. Whilst, as we chatted about here FIFA 22 will cost you up to £90, this year’s version of PES will be absolutely free (free, with a big asterisk). It’ll be on PC, Xbox and PlayStation formats this autumn, and the name has been retired too. It’s now going to be called – as has been hinted for a while – eFootball.

The free-to-play model has made billions for games such as Candy Crush Saga, Fortnite and Roblox. EA has had a fair dabble with it too, as it continues to push Apex Legends. But does a sports game necessarily lend itself to it? Well, Konami is about to find out, abandoning its traditional retail roots as it does so.

It doesn’t sound like it’s skimping on the game itself either, with a list of posh-sounding enhancements and talk of working with footballing professionals. As such, it’s not going to be the cheapest game to develop, especially given that the free to play model demands fresh fodder to be fed to it, to keep players interested. Konami is taking the up-front risk here.

Yet this is no benevolent gesture, rather the biggest strategic risk the firm has taken with the series since the early 2000s (when it split the ISS franchise into two different strands, a story for another time). The hard, cold fact is it’s going to need to get its money from somewhere. Given that football games tend to glue eyeballs to screens, advertising is going to be one channel for that. But it’s in the in-app purchases where the fortune really lies. Konami knows that’s the area it’s got to nail, as it fights to keep PE… sorry, eFootball relevant and competitive. 

Regular updates are thus already promised, as is the fact that the core game will be free. The early sign is that you won’t get much for no money, though. Exhibition matches and a limited collection of clubs are in the basic version, with leagues and other game modes set to require a credit card a little way down the line. Furthermore, there’s the shadow of FIFA’s wildly lucrative Ultimate Team mode hanging over this one as well. Is eFootball a free foundation on which Konami intends to bolster its equivalent, MyClub? Time will tell on that, but that seems to be a goldmine it’d be daft to resist. 

A roadmap for the game promises an unnamed team building mode to launch in late autumn, with eSports tournaments kicking off in winter. Lionel Messi is the face of the game, and further announcements are set for the end of August. Then, bigger annual updates will remain part of the development cycle.

Gamble

What’s clear though is that Konami is taking something of a handbrake turn here. A big, huge gamble that arguably it’s had to take to remain competitive. The problem it faces is if it pulls this off, its richer rival may do a minor alteration of course and pick it off that way. For all the talk of going free to play though, it remains the core game that Konami needs to get right. It won’t have the official team names again, that much is likely. And in a side-by-side battle on the shelf, it knew it was going to struggle. 

But at least free to play should be enough to get a good few extra players through the door and into the eFootball ground. The question – and the ongoing existence of the franchise hinges on this – is whether they’ll want to stay…


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