After what can only be described as a less than stellar debut for the rebranded eFootball, the folks at Konami have been making the rounds this week. Following up on his interview with IGN, eFootball Producer Seitaro Kimura was back at it, this time sitting down with esports gaming aficionado Asahi. Despite there being not much in the way of new information, Mr. Kimura does provide some clarification on such topics as Konami’s decision to make eFootball a free to play (F2P) service and the vision behind rebranding the PES series.
Let’s jump into what was discussed.
The Evolution Of PES
This isn’t the first time Konami’s flagship soccer series has undergone a rebranding. Transitioning from International Soccer Superstars (ISS) to Pro Evolution Soccer (PES) with a stop in between at Winning Eleven, the series has gone by many names, none of them as catchy as “PES” though. Apart from standardizing the name as Konami did with PES, often the new names marked a new beginning, usually coinciding with new consoles/hardware:
“PES has been evolving all the time, but when the name “PES” is given to this work, it looks like an extension of evolution. That’s why we gave it a new brand name, eFootball, to show that we were reborn.”
Hindsight is 20/20 and if we’re looking back, the writing was on the wall. When Konami stuck the “eSports” in front “eFootball PES 2020” many including myself sort of just glossed over it not taking into account what seemed like a significant change in approach by Konami:
“Create a big cross-platform esports scene in response to changes in the game engine and business. For that reason, we decided to unify what was called “PES” in Japan and “Pro Evolution Soccer (PES)” overseas into “eFootball.”
Embracing eSports And A New F2P Model
While the name and the game might ultimately end up feeling like the PES we’ve grown to enjoy over the years, one aspect that’s certainly different is the F2P model and promise of a true cross-platform game:
“…in order to catch up with the flow of the market, I thought that it was necessary to make it Free to Play and cross-platform support that allows competition and cooperation beyond the boundaries of devices.”
After the success of games like Fortnite and Apex Legends, companies like Konami who were already shifting towards prioritizing the mobile market have taken a AAA game and bridged the gap between the expectations of a major title and accessibility by promising full-on cross-play at some point in the near future:
“I wanted to lower the hurdles for participation as much as possible in order to create an environment where anyone can easily play if they want to play a soccer game.”
It’s all about access and reach at this point, two areas where Konami’s biggest footy rival FIFA already does extremely well. Putting the base game in the hands of consumers at no cost is a pretty safe way to ensure that there’s no reason why both the longtime PES die-hards and newcomers to the series have an excuse for missing out.
“There are many people in the past tense who say that they haven’t bought the latest version, they don’t have a next-generation console, or they used to play PES. That’s why I made a big turn to “get all soccer fans to play.”
You attract them with the price and hope that they enjoy the product enough to pay for add-ons. It’s not a new idea by any means but one that Konami is banking on paying off, literally. More downloads means more advertising, which translates into more revenue. Add in what will most likely be a la carte modes and the potential for eFootball to cash in is huge. Here’s to hoping that Konami puts some of the revenue back into the game because the gameplay and experience, both online and offline, need to be pretty good in order to keep you around. You’re much more likely to delete a free game if it’s not to your liking knowing that you only spent a little time and no money on the game.
Part of the disappointment that so many of us felt when we first watched the reveal trailer stemmed in part from the expectations that came when Konami announced the change from the Fox to Unreal Engine.
Before most of us really knew what the Unreal Engine was all about, Konami made a decision years before the announcement to explore a new engine. Again, the writing was on the wall as the mobile version of PES has been using the Unreal Engine since at least 2019. Allowing them to tackle the technical challenges that often arise from a year-to-year development cycle, the Unreal Engine allowed Konami to leverage existing resources, including talented engineers and existing data.
“For Unreal Engine, the development benefits were huge. Until now, PES used its own game engine, but since it was an engine that was only used in-house, there were not many development cases. Unreal Engine has been adopted by various titles from other manufacturers, and there are many development examples. It’s very easy to produce because you can see many examples.”
All of this was done initially with the mobile market in mind, but once the new generation of consoles were announced the logical decision was to follow suit for the PS5 and Xbox Series X/S.
As eFootball shifts from its roots, primarily Master League offline vs. the AI, the need to cater gameplay to user vs. user has become increasingly evident to Konami.
“I think that the interesting part of soccer is still one-on-one, and we are proceeding with development focusing on the bargaining there. It’s an image that you can take a wide range of strategies such as defensive and dodge attacks.”
Fans of the FIFA series have seen this dynamic play out with the explosion in popularity of FIFA Ultimate Team (FUT), something Konami has looked to mimic with their MyClub mode. It’s with this in mind that the connection between esports and eFootball seem like a perfect couple. The success of Konami’s huge gamble will ultimately depend on the success of the tech behind the scenes, but the first move has been made so it’s time for Konami to finally get the online matchmaking right.
I touched briefly on MyClub but it’s no secret that this is the mode Konami sees as the future flagship mode. Just like EA’s FUT, the hope is that once the mode sucks you in, the microtransactions will be the main source of revenue as the game will no longer will be released on discs, a move that will should cut down on production costs. From the looks of things, this new “Teambuilder” mode sounds an awful lot like MyClub:
“Team build mode” is more like “myClub” than it is a completely new game mode. Until now, myClub had a strong so-called “Gacha element”, but in order for players to enjoy it more, it will be possible to nominate and acquire favorite players.”
Again, it’s about accessibility and getting as many people as possible playing this new Teambuilder mode. It wouldn’t shock me one bit if we see a free-to-play Teambuilder mode from Konami, especially near the release of eFootball in late August.
Now that Konami has all of these players, connecting them is the next hurdle that Konami wants to tackle. From a tech standpoint, this is going to be a huge undertaking given the varying level of specifications across the different gaming platforms. Konami struggled from the start to adapt to the new online gaming landscape, and even in 2021 issues online are still prevalent:
“We are always in trouble. EFootball makes the online server common to all platforms and the world. No matter what device you play on, if you can participate anywhere in the world and open a tournament where everyone can aim to be the “best person in the world”, there will be romance. Therefore, I would like to make it so that there is as little difference in line and device specifications as possible.”
For me, this is the biggest question surrounding eFootball. Quite simply, can Konami pull off the cross-play it has publicly committed to, and if so, at what cost will it be to gamers playing on different platforms? I was fortunate enough to snag a PS5 and apologies in advance for being pretentious but I am not going back. The expectations, mainly graphically and in relation to response/loading times, have been raised. Again, like many of you, I do not want to sacrifice our experiences for the sake of a level gaming field. Thankfully, Mr. Kimura clears this up a bit for us:
“We are planning to enhance the matching options, such as limiting the devices of the opponents to play against, and prioritizing matching between players who can communicate comfortably.”
Knowing that I can limit my matchmaking to consoles is a huge relief. I’m still intrigued by how Konami will decide to downgrade the experience as you descend the ladder of platform power. In addition, I still harbor huge doubts over whether or not Konami can provide — at the bare minimum — an enjoyable online experience when it comes to performance.
When asked about what device was/will eFootball be tailored for when playing offline, the Konami producer offers a somewhat troubling answer:
“That’s exactly the part I’m worried about, but I think I’ll definitely choose a device that will have more participants.”
If you work on the game and you’re worried then I am most certainly starting to worry too. I’ve now read this quote close to 100 times, and each time I try to convince myself that the device he’s referring to is not a mobile one, but each time logic prevails and I’m left a little sadder as I’m starting to come to grips with the fact that “PES ain’t PES no more.” He does iterate a few moments later that:
“…but since this is a new attempt, we would like to hear various opinions.”
So if you’re out there and are a fan of both offline play and respecting the basic fundamentals of soccer, please do your best to let your voice be heard in a respectful way. Personal attacks on those individuals that work for/promote the game only serve as avenues to get you blocked, thus muting any actual intelligent feedback you have to offer. You can be critical of a game yet still be respectful in how you voice your displeasure.
The amount of buzz surrounding Konami’s eFootball is at levels I haven’t seen in a long time. I’m not sure if the saying “all press is good press” fits here, but one thing’s for certain, the company has captured the attention of the footy gaming community. Whether that impression is positive or negative depends on the person, if not the day. I’ve run through a spectrum of emotions for eFootball, but yet I still have some juice in these legs. Who knows what next month, next week, or even tomorrow will bring with this game. The only certainty is that I am looking forward to this next month as we break down everything eFootball here at OS.
“You had my curiosity but now you have my attention.”