The excitement building up to the July 21 announcement by Konami was real. Speculation as to what the announcement could be was fueled by a decision two years ago by Konami to make the 2021 rendition a Season Update. Citing a move to a new engine (Unreal Engine, which you can read about here and here) as well as new hardware, one could easily justify Konami’s decision. Instead of repeating some of the same mistakes they made when transitioning in the past from the PS2 to PS3 and then the PS3 to PS4, Konami’s decision made a lot of sense. Yes, it was risky since obviously EA was going to go big to further its gap in sales dominance, but it was a cautious, calculated move with an end-goal in mind, namely making the first version of PES on next-gen systems the best game in the series to date. It’s with this end goal in mind that we’ll revisit the eFootball trailer and see if the end goal ended up being an own goal.
eFootball Trailer Analysis
Probably the least shocking news we learned from the announcement was that the old moniker Pro Evolution Soccer, or more commonly PES, is no more. While it’s sad, the writing was on the wall with Konami’s inclusion of “eFootball” in the game’s title in 2020. A mouthful last year, eFootball PES 2021 Season Update didn’t roll off the tongue very well, which is why a lot of folks usually refer to the franchise as simply PES. However, this only brings up memories of Master League legends such as Castolo and times where offline gaming vs. the AI and/or playing a local match were all the rage.
The trend across sports gaming in general is moving away from offline experiences, but there’s still a huge market out there for folks like me who don’t have the time, desire to solely play online, or just prefer getting lost in their own Master League world. It’s the last part, getting absorbed into our own managerial careers, that draws in folks like me. Besides, it gives Arsenal fans something to actually look forward to.
As is normally the case, once the name goes the old logo usually follows suit, and this year we’re going to see a new logo for eFootball (It will take me a while to stop writing PES). Marketing and branding aside, it looks a lot like the European currency (euro) logo, which when combined with eFootball tells you about Konami’s priorities. I can’t fault Konami 100% for this as it is a company in the business of making money, but it’s still disheartening and a bit coincidental how all of this ties together.
At the end of the day, a name is just a name, but boy do those old memories die hard. On the flip side, at least it’s not A New Football Game.
Free To Play
Probably the best thing to come out of this reveal was the news that eFootball will be free to play, well at least initially. eFootball PES 2021 Season Update released at a reduced price, which made sense considering that it was essentially a roster update with some gameplay tweaks along the way. So hearing the news that the next version will be free does lessen the blow of some other disappointing areas from this reveal trailer.
Despite the lack of a price tag, more questions seem to pop up as opposed to being answered. How will Konami make money off this product? Will they nickel and dime us for modes like Master League and MyClub? Will Konami charge for roster updates and other cosmetic updates? Pandora’s box has been opened, and inside there are more questions than answers. Being “free to play” opens up the door to invite in a lot of new players, but once you’re inside what’s the cost to stay and play what we’ve been accustomed to? Who would have thought something free would raise so many concerns.
Now the Online Performance Test is starting to make sense. In case you missed it, Konami secretly rolled out this Online Performance Test which we gave our opinion on here — as well as whether or not it was a good idea in hindsight to release this test. Most of us who have played PES online in the past knew it was always a mixed bag. Between navigating through every server in the free world to dodgy connections even if you had a great internet connection, PES online has historically underachieved. Thinking that this Online Performance Test was solely about PlayStation to PlayStation matchmaking was premature as Konami announced that cross-platform gaming will be a thing for eFootball at some point during the upcoming ’22 cycle.
Make no mistake, this is a huge accomplishment as folks like myself have been clamoring for cross-platform on both FIFA and PES for quite some time now. Never has the divide between consoles, PC, and mobile platforms been so large. Add new mobile devices like Steam’s Steam Deck and the scarcity of next-gen consoles, and the need to bring all players together must have been a difficult task. And, it’s one that Konami seems confident in pulling off.
But at what cost? This is the troubling part if we’re being honest. Similar to how PC FIFA players won’t be able to use the new additions that can be only found on next gen, what does this mean for us? Does this mean that the game will be stripped down to ensure that the playing field is level for all gaming devices? This is way above my technological pay grade, but the signs seem to point that way. If that’s the case, does that mean we’ll more than likely see the same control scheme, as well as scaled graphics (up, down, sideways?) across all devices.
With the various platforms having differing levels of system specifications, how exactly this will play out is yet to be determined. Regardless, much like the “free to play” moniker, this raises more questions than it answers. That is is not necessarily a negative, but it will keep us on the edge of our seats until we receive more information, which Konami said is forthcoming — most likely in August.
Konami Going Digital Only
One of the less impactful tidbits Konami dropped on us was that it was ditching the traditional discs in favor of only offering a digital product. This is one change I can get behind as I personally love the ease of switching between digital games as opposed to having to get up and swap out discs. I know this isn’t for everyone because some folks out there have a nice collection of hard-copy games, and it pretty much wipes out the secondary market for sales (but who’s going to buy a used “free” game). Still, the impact of going digital only most likely saves Konami some production dollars. This is a trend I can see continuing, although it does require faster internet connections — and preferably ones without monthly size caps.
An interesting point to note, and something to look forward to, is will this mean cloud-based saves are on the horizon? If eFootball is digital only now and available across most gaming platforms, does this mean we’ll see cloud-based saves allowing us to access and play our game saves across these platforms? I for one wouldn’t mind playing actual matches on my PS5 but still having the ability to do managerial tasks such as transfer market deals from my phone. The NCAA Football series used to have the ability to recruit from your mobile device/computer, which was a really nice integrative way to keep you connected at all times. There might have been a few times where I weaseled a look at my phone during work meetings to make a recruiting pitch.
Taking A Page From FIFA
Whether you want to believe it or not, the footy market is dominated by FIFA. This wasn’t always the case, but EA has worked hard and spent a lot of money making FIFA the #1 selling soccer title. In an age where competition within the sports genres are rare, FIFA and PES have always kept one eye on the prize with the other eye taking a few glances at each other. FIFA‘s Ultimate Team (FUT) paved the way for MyClub and now it seems that Konami is making it easier for folks to transition over to eFootball with a similar control layout by re-mapping the sprint control from RB/R1 to RT/R2.
On the surface this seems minor, but it’s the mechanics behind the way both sprints are used that created such a difference among the games. PES traditionally used the sprint button in a more diverse way, with double taps serving as knock-ons, and depressing it as a way of running at speed with/without the ball. FIFA introduced adaptive triggers last year on the PS5, so it will be interesting to see how PES will utilize some of the next-gen capabilities. Additionally, according to IGN, a greater emphasis will be placed on “Player vs. Player” matches as opposed to “Player vs. Computer” matches. Perhaps this lines up with the changing gaming demographics, but long-time fans of FIFA usually point towards the popularity of FUT as the starting point for a downward trend in FIFA‘s overall gameplay. Will PES, excuse me, eFootball see a similar trend? One can only speculate.
Konami didn’t commit to hard dates in this reveal, instead providing us with a general roadmap on when certain features will roll out. This is a smart approach by the developers because if something fails to meet a specific date the community won’t bash them for it. But it also creates uncertainty, which is the common theme of this reveal — and not a good approach in general.
Just looking at the roadmap gives us some important insights into what’s to come. Normally, we get a new PES in late August. This is usually the full product with Master League and MyClub included with rosters that might not be updated due to the summer transfer window still being open. At this point, Konami usually adds in DLC, such as stadiums, faces, etc. What 2022 looks like is a basically a demo with nine teams and local play as the sole mode. Disheartening to say the least.
Even cross-play won’t be fully functional with only cross-generational (PS5 vs. PS4, Xbox Series X/S vs. Xbox One) play available. Fast forward a little bit to late Autumn and we’ll see both “Online Leagues” as well as “Team Building” being added. We’re two years in the making and Konami doesn’t even have a name for these modes. Unless they’re going to wow us with another underwhelming trailer, it speaks to the lack of foresight by Konami. It’s also at this point that cross-platform matches will open up, as well as the first taste of what will most likely be “death by a million microtransactions” in the form of this Match Pass System.
Fast forward some more into Winter and full cross-platform play will be available with controller support for mobile devices included. Nowhere on this roadmap are mentions of Master League or MyClub, the two flagship PES modes. Maybe an announcement on these two will come, but for now it leads to speculation — and speculation within the sports gaming community is almost always negative.
It’s no secret I’m hard on both EA and Konami when it comes to their soccer titles. EA, with all its resources and reach should be closer to a footy simulation by now, but outside factors probably contribute to it being in the place it currently resides. Konami and its “Gameplay is King” or “The Pitch is Ours” catchphrases used to speak directly to the offline community, but now Konami has seemingly pivoted to a new model piggybacking off the player vs. player gameplay experiences that are the rage now. While even the gameplay can vary between Data Packs, there was always a sense that PES was for pushing towards football simulation with the emphasis on gameplay. It’s too early to declare that PES is dead, but one thing is for certain: what we see from eFootball in August will be different than what we have in December.
Personally, I’m extremely disappointed in this announcement. We’ve waited two years for a significant upgrade to eFootball PES 2020 utilizing the power of the Unreal Engine and next-gen systems, only to see what looks like mobile graphics scaled down to appeal to the mobile gaming community. If the changes to Master League are minimal and the graphical upgrades have indeed been stunted to make a level playing field, then many of us will be left with a difficult decision to make.
Unfortunately, Konami is testing our patience as more information is not forthcoming until August. In an age where disinformation rules, this is a dangerous strategical approach being taken by Konami and one that could potentially backfire.