There was a time, back in the days of PS2, when the match between Konami and EA's football titles was a real top-of-the-table clash.
It was Pro Evolution Soccer, the purist's game of choice, versus FIFA, the game that had all the big name licences. And while the latter might win the fight for sales, it was the former that won the hearts of critics and hardcore football fans.
Until it didn't. It's been well documented how PES has waned over the last console generation. FIFA has cemented itself as the world's best football game, breaking a new sales record every year. PES, meanwhile, has slipped into obscurity. Its annual release goes almost unnoticed by trade, media and consumers alike.
Even Konami seemed to lose faith. For a few years, MCV would run the same PES story where the publisher predicted: ‘This year will be our comeback.' Yet, it never quite managed it. Konami itself became reluctant to talk-up the title.
People were fed up of hearing about false dawns around PES,” admits PES European brand manager Adam Bhatti. Maybe it was our fault, where we kept telling people ‘PES is back'.”
Yet, like any good underdog story, this one has a twist in its tale. Because this year's PES title has done something the series has not managed to do in a long while – score a Metacritic average that matches that of FIFA.
There was a huge outcry from fans because we didn't bring PES to the new consoles last year,” explains Bhatti. But what that did was give us enough time to make a game where people could instantly see the difference in quality.
As this is our first game on PS4 and Xbox One, we took it very seriously because of how PES has been perceived in recent times. We really had to make a statement on our first game for the new consoles because that would pave the way for the future. We could not afford to start slow this time.Now we have been given this chance we have to take it.”
Erik Bladinieres, Konami's global director of strategic alliances adds: For a couple of years we got distracted because of our competition.
Now we are back with that original concept of PES. When you go out with your friends to the park around the corner and have a kick about – that is the heart of PES. It's not about the millions of dollars and the sponsorships... that is not PES.”
The game's good review scores have had a galvanising effect on Konami, says Bhatti.
It has definitely made us believe in ourselves again. We are the same people, the same company, that made those beautiful football games back in the PS2 days.”
He continues: PES has never been big budgets and big licences, even when we were awesome. As long as we have the better game, people will take notice. For a number of years people didn't think we were the best anymore and that really hurt us. We have now proved we have the better game, so let's go, twice as hard now.”
This year's PES was no fluke goal, insists Konami. There has been a huge amount of investment behind the scenes. The firm built a 20-man UK-based PES team, tasked with developing new concepts for the game. And that team is already looking to the future.
The PES 2015 story does not end here. Konami is
now eagerly trying to push the game out there and
pull in more fans to generate that word-of-mouth.
There is a second-part of the marketing campaign
coming in the next couple of days that support
a couple of things,” says Konami's global director
of strategic alliances Erik Bladinieres.
One of the things about PES this year is it is
going to be alive all year long, all the way from
here until the moment we sell PES 16.
We also have a number of partnerships. The biggest
one we have right now is with Samsung. We
have a great partnership with their new Curved TV.
This partnership will be running many different
promotions, tournaments and communications.”
On top of that we have a big partnership with
PlayStation, and we have a smaller – but still strong
– partnership with Adidas. We never really, fully took
advantage of these in the past, and now we have
a full team dedicated to it.”
The company is also rolling out its PES League
globally. The League was previously just for the UK
and a few other territories, but now it's live worldwide
and will lead up to an event at the Champions League
Final in Berlin next June.
Bladinieres adds that Konami is looking to secure more
licences, to go alongside PES' existing licences
such as the Champions League.
I wish we could have every single league and every single
player in the world, and I think it's the same wish from our competition.
Unfortunately, we both have to fight for them.This week we are going
to have a conversation about licences for next year, and
we have our expectations set very high.”
When we finished PES 15, the Windsor office were already working on the future ideas to make sure we are well-ahead and keep surprising people year-on-year,” adds Bhatti.
Konami has also been using the new Fox Engine, which was created by the Kojima Productions studio. The engine has primarily been built for games like Metal Gear Solid V, which means the PES creators have only been using it for visual oomph thus far.
We can do a lot more,” continues Bhatti. We're only scratching the surface of what that engine can do. That is one of the really exciting things for the future of PES, there's more that we can incorporate and implement from the FOX Engine.”
One thing PES appears to have lost over the last few years – especially compared with FIFA – has been its presence. There doesn't appear to have been many big TV ads for the series for a while, whereas EA's footie franchise is everywhere.
This year we did not create a lot of noise during the firstcouple of months,” says Bladinieres. In the past we tried to get beautiful TV advertising out there, but the reality was that those ads were not appreciatedby PES consumers.
Over the last 12 months we've done a lot of