Behind the PES Series’ Unprecedented Transformation Into eFootball | IGN

It’s not an overstatement to say that PES’ shift into eFootball is the biggest moment in Konami’s footballing history since, well, beginning to make football games. Last year, it was big news simply that the series was taking a year off to switch to Unreal Engine; today, we know it’s also getting a new name, going digital-only, becoming free-to-play, and will be playable across new-gen and last-gen consoles, PC, and mobile.

It might even be one among the biggest shifts for an established game series, full stop. While recent years have seen the likes of Call of Duty embrace free-to-play and live service approaches for specific modes, this marks one of the industry’s longest-running franchises adopting an entirely different release model. It’s easy to see why Konami thought it needed a new name to go with it – even if the clunky ‘eFootball’ will be a hard title to swallow for many long-time fans.

One of the key figures behind that shift is series producer Seitaro Kimura, who spoke to IGN ahead of the announcement, and explained more of the thinking around it. “We started planning this move roughly two years ago to coincide with the console generation transition and changes in the market environment,” he tells us, before explaining that PES Mobile’s huge success acted as a blueprint for the wider shift. “I believe that we have already proven that this structure can be successful on mobile. By applying the same model across all platforms, we hope that more football fans will be able to play this game on consoles as well.”

[ignvideo url=”https://www.ign.com/videos/2021/07/21/efootball-official-reveal-trailer-pes-2022″%5D

Of course, that mobile inspiration will worry fans of the more fully-fledged console PES experience – is this going to be a more casual football experience than the normal simulation approach? Kimura says not to worry: “We’re still making games on consoles first. We then take that exact same experience and make it available for mobile devices. In other words, we are not making the game for mobile, but working to make mobile more console-like.”

Of course, even if that’s true of gameplay, there’s still the thorny issue of trying to make a game that can match other PS5 or Xbox Series X games for looks, while simultaneously being able to run on normal mobile devices. Kimura insists that it’s possible: “We would ask our fans to not worry, we have made great efforts to tailor the visual quality of the game to the hardware of each device.”

That comes down in part to the new tech behind the game, a custom-built football game engine designed from a base of the hugely popular Unreal Engine 4. “That’s why we chose Unreal Engine,” Kimura replies when we ask how new-gen and mobile versions with cross-play are possible. “Unreal Engine’s development speed is one of the fastest among game engines, and its scalability includes both high-end and low-end – perfect for mobile and next-gen platforms.” We’re yet to see the results, of course, but the success of Fortnite’s translation from console to mobile (also using Unreal) is encouraging – although doing the same for a hyper-realistic football sim is a different level of challenge.

But hardcore PES fans have traditionally pointed to how games in the series feel to play, rather than their looks, as what’s important – how will eFootball address the on-the-pitch action? That became a key part of the development team’s thinking while designing a new engine – after working with Konami’s aging FOX Engine for so long, building something new out of Unreal seemingly allowed Konami to reassess what a football game should feel like.

[poilib element=”quoteBox” parameters=”excerpt=%26quot%3BWe%20started%20planning%20this%20move%20roughly%20two%20years%20ago%20to%20coincide%20with%20the%20console%20generation%20transition.%26quot%3B”]

That’s included some fundamental changes, such as altering some of the series’ traditional controls. While Konami won’t tell us the full list of changes, we know that sprinting is now achieved by holding a right trigger, and has added new options for how you players use the ball while sprinting. “‘Ball Control’ is new this year,” Kimura explains, “which takes advantage of the R2/RT [trigger buttons’] analog input to freely control the strength of the ball touch, and ‘Knock-On’ enables instantaneous strong touches. Since dribbling is naturally against a defender, we have also added some new elements to the defensive controls, such as ‘Match-up’ and ‘Physical Defending’.”

It’s perhaps not a coincidence that putting sprint onto a right trigger matches the controls of its key rival – if I was speculating, I’d say that some of these changes could also have been made in order to make switching from FIFA to eFootball a smoother transition for migrating players. As you might expect, Konami didn’t comment on that comparison.

“In order to understand how the best players in the world play the sport, we brought in [footballers Andrés Iniesta and Gerard Piqué] as gameplay advisors and asked for their advice,” Kimura explains. “It was a big decision to change the controls that people are used to, but it made the battle for the ball more realistic and more reflective of the user’s intentions.”

Another key part of that rethink was in tailoring the game specifically for player vs. player matches, rather than player vs. computer. “We’re making it so that people can enjoy playing against other players, as this provides a greater thrill than what AI can provide,” reasons Kimura. “We believe that the 1v1 offense and defense realized in this way is the most important innovation of eFootball.”

[widget path=”global/article/imagegallery” parameters=”slug=efootball-images&captions=true”]

Clearly, there are a lot of changes coming to the traditional PES formula – enough that Kimura says that the team isn’t thinking about this in terms of being a ‘new PES’: “We hope that football fans all over the world will enjoy the game as a completely new one rather than a simple update to what came before.”

There’s much more that Kimura won’t talk about. Our questions about how modes and other content will be introduced and sold, how or if MyClub will be adjusted for a free-to-play format, if licensed clubs will get specific DLC, and more were batted away, with many of his answers involving us waiting until August for more information.

It’s also abundantly clear that the version of eFootball we get when the game launches in August will not be the eFootball we’re playing next year, never mind the years to come after that (and Konami is very much thinking of this as a multi-year project). Aside from a roadmap of changes, adding purchaseable modes, mobile versions, and cross-play, Konami is designing this game to be updated in a number of ways.

Like PES, eFootball will see weekly live updates to reflect squad changes and real-world transfers. It will also regularly add what Kimura calls “in-game campaigns” – he doesn’t explain the content of these, but you can likely expect limited-time tournaments and the like. But interestingly, the platform approach will allow for much bigger changes to be made more fluidly.

Ditching traditional yearly game releases doesn’t mean that Konami won’t be updating the game every season. You can expect major roster updates, new kits, and even visual and gameplay upgrades on the normal yearly cycle, but Kimura also says the team will be monitoring player feedback on the game throughout its life, and potentially making alterations well before it would normally be expected to. As the producer puts it, “The platform model gives us the opportunity to provide meaningful updates irregularly, if appropriate, without having to ask users to download a new game.”

[poilib element=”quoteBox” parameters=”excerpt=%26quot%3BIt%20was%20a%20big%20decision%20to%20change%20the%20controls%20that%20people%20are%20used%20to.%26quot%3B”]

I’d argue that the most exciting prospect of eFootball, as opposed to PES, is that malleability – more than ever, fans’ responses to Konami’s work should be a part of shaping what comes next.

As someone who’s dabbled in PES for a very long time, I have a fondness for its earlier, stranger days, when peerless simulation was often balanced with true weirdness, like being able to field an entire team of players in penguin costumes. I ask Kimura if the free-to-play future allows for some of those odder impulses to pop up again in eFootball, as paid cosmetics perhaps. I get a more hopeful answer than expected: “There are no plans to do so currently. However, if there is a lot of demand for it, it may be on the roadmap in the future.”

Improbable as it may sound, that – to me – is the real promise of eFootball as a platform rather than a single entry in a yearly series. Konami is no longer focusing on just getting a game out every year – it’s focusing on getting the existing game right, and making sure that it’s the one fans want. Much about the game we’ll get this Autumn remains to be seen, and I won’t be making predictions about whether this is a ‘FIFA killer’ just yet – but eFootball is already a more intriguing prospect than PES has been for some time.

Without a yearly cash injection, and by tying its monetary success to fans paying for what they want, eFootball will have to be innately responsive to what its players demand of it, which should result in a more mercurial, consistently interesting game. And if penguin-lads are part of that, all the better.

[poilib element=”accentDivider”]

Joe Skrebels is IGN’s Executive Editor of News. Follow him on Twitter. Have a tip for us? Want to discuss a possible story? Please send an email to newstips@ign.com.

Read More

Leave a Reply