Throughout the 2000s, there was a genuine competitor to EA Sports’ FIFA franchise in the world of football simulation games. From 2023 onwards, there may well be yet again. That’s because EA Sports and FIFA, world football’s governing body, will not be renewing their current licensing deal.
FIFA President Gianni Infantino is seeking an eye-watering $1bn for a lucrative official rights deal, which is much higher than the California-based games producer is willing to fork out. It’s expected that 2K Sports may well pick up the official rights package, and let’s face it who else can afford to pay such a premium?
But the current producers of the FIFA Franchise have confirmed that they will continue making their beloved football simulation under a new name, EA Sports FC.
Just as there may be a genuine competitor in the future, there was also one in the past. Konami’s Pro Evolution Soccer took the footballing world by storm in the mid-2000s. Despite not having the official rights to many leagues, with the English Premier League a notable absence, the game’s superior gameplay meant that many preferred it to FIFA.
Pro Evolution Soccer 5 (2005) and Pro Evolution Soccer 6 (2006) – with the iconic Brazilian forward Adriano on the front cover – were games that will go down in sports gaming history as two of the all-time greats.
Further gems would follow, with Konami even managing to secure a 10-year rights deal with UEFA, the governing body of European football. That meant that between 2008 and 2018, Pro Evolution Soccer was the only place where you could lead your favorite team to UEFA Champions League and UEFA Europa League glory. They also had exclusive rights to UEFA EURO 2016 and the delayed EURO 2020.
But the Japanese games producer decided to rebrand their iconic franchise as eFootball back in 2021, and since then, the wheels have come off the bus. The rebranding decision was made in the hopes of capitalizing on the eSports boom, which prompted online bookmakers like Thunderpick to allow their players to try esports betting with bitcoin on their website.
But the decision has been catastrophic for Konami, and now their former market-leading game has been left by the wayside.
The Early Years
With the release of Pro Evolution Soccer (PES) in October 2001, Konami’s soccer franchise quickly became one of the most popular soccer video-game franchises in the world. Now, almost two decades later, the once proud franchise is at the brink of decline, with sales figures and player trust dwindling, and the main antagonist FIFA rearing its success all the more.
Konami has had several difficulties on the licensing front with the Pro Evolution Soccer franchise, which FIFA has capitalized on in order to remain the top soccer video-game franchise.
Konami has been unable to secure the rights to use certain teams and players’ likenesses, unlike FIFA who, through the EA Sports label, has had the benefit of having multiple licenses of premier footballing talent in addition to other global sports leagues. Such a presence, not only helps maintain trust in the franchise but also boosts sales.
Compounding this issue, the franchise has been wracked with various bugs, both minor and major, in their recent releases. Such a reputation of quality has caused player trust in the franchise to take a dramatic hit, which has drastically skewed the sales figures from a USD $200 million franchise to a USD $20 million franchise.
In comparison, FIFA still retains record-breaking releases. The erosion of player trust in PES is further evidenced by the overwhelming metrics in favor of FIFA and its success as the premier soccer video-game franchise.
The Daunted eFootball Rebrand
Konami, however, isn’t completely done with and despite a severe decline in sales is hoping to revive the franchise. This comes in the form of the eFootball 2021 release, but the new release was plagued with a number of laughable bugs that went viral on social media.
They attempted to release another installment of the franchise in 2022 however, that was touted as an update rather than a full title. Konami is hoping that the update brings the changes players have been clamoring for to revive the franchise, such as more detailed player models and dynamic lighting, among others.
At the end of the day, Konami’s franchise, whether it’s called Pro Evolution Soccer or eFootball, is still a beloved franchise that has managed to capture the essence of soccer and kept players playing for almost two decades. However, its decline has been swift and evident, and despite Konami’s best efforts, it appears that the franchise is still facing an uphill battle.
It remains unclear whether recent releases will be enough to revive the franchise, but it does have the potential to prove naysayers wrong and once again propel the game back to the top of the soccer video-game franchise lineup.