Buidling Dreams Together


FIFA vs PES: Once a Rivalry, Now In the Past

Ask any kid growing up in the 2000s or 2010s if they preferred FIFA or Pro Evolution Soccer (PES), and you’d have a battle in the playground on which game reigns supreme.

The FIFA series and the PES series (now known as eFootball) used to be the powerhouses of the football video game scene.

They dominated game consoles. Content platforms such as YouTube and Twitch fell over themselves to show the best content creators on the games, and it looked like the duopoly would continue.

Fast forward to 2023, PES as a series is dead, eFootball is ranked as one of the worst games of all time, and what we call the FIFA games is over as the series moves on to a new name – EA Sports FC.

To add to the misery, both series’ reputations have been destroyed and the games have become more divisive.

So, what happened? How did they get to this point?

To answer that question, we have to explore the origins of the games, their meteoric rise and their sudden downfall.

EA Sports and their Expansion into Football
Photo of Sensible Soccer. Credit: Read-Only Memory

The story begins with EA Sports, originally developing themselves as a pioneer for modern sports games with John Madden Football in 1988 before delving into the worlds of ice hockey and golf.

Their strategy of signing exclusivity deals with major leagues allowed them to stand out amongst their rivals.

However, their games appealed only to the American market, without much success in the European market, and EA decided that a football game would stand the best chance at success if it came to fruition.

Two games were top of the football market at the time – Sensible Soccer and Kick Off (we will visit these games in a future feature) – and the developers at EA wanted to differentiate by having more realism and adopting an isometric viewpoint, as opposed to a top-down.

In December 1993, FIFA International Soccer was born, and would start a series that would last for 30 years.

Photo of the Original FIFA. Credit: Dan Thornton

EA signed an agreement with FIFA, which was groundbreaking for the time, despite securing only national teams with flags and randomised players. It broke sales expectations, shipping over 500,000 copies in the first four weeks on the Sega Mega Drive.

Critics praised the animations and the crowd responding to the play, and it was late ported to the SNES and the Game Gear amongst other consoles, starting a cultural phenomena.

Throughout the 90s the series started implementing features which are well-known nowadays, starting with FIFA 95 which included clubs (without players) and penalty shootouts.

FIFA 97 implemented an indoor mode, a long-distance cousin of what would become Volta Football and which would also inspire street mode.

But in 1994, a rival emerged to challenge EA and FIFA in the form of International Superstar Soccer (ISS), which later became Pro Evolution Soccer, and a rivalry was born.

PES: The Japanese Rival
Photo of International Superstar Soccer 1997. Credit: Andy Bolsover: Konami

In order for the public to benefit from FIFA, there had to be a rival, which PES managed to become. It’s the same with multiple industries, Coca Cola vs Pepsi and PlayStation vs Xbox being great examples.

Even in football, you have Everton vs Liverpool, Man City vs Man Utd, Celtic vs Rangers, Atletico vs Real Madrid and AC Milan vs Inter to name a few.

PES took on FIFA with a different plan to their American rivals, as they offered a lifelike experience which would reward patience and improvisation instead of tactics and a structured playstyle.

The original ISS game in 1994 was a solid game. But, it wasn’t until the sequel, ISS Pro in 1997 that we really saw a genuine contender to FIFA’s reign, and successive games built on the formula.

The 1997 release introduced 3D game engines and gave a new experience when compared to FIFA, which at this time was four years old, and also gained legendary status for their made-up names (due to a lack of license).

Roberto Larcos, Naldorinho, the England team of Skoles, Bekham, Owenn and Sheerer became icons, and the awaited rivalry between FIFA and PES had finally commenced.

PES’ Early Advantage With Quality over Quantity

The early 2000s saw Pro Evolution Soccer (PES) join the shelves in name, and to monstrous success, rating higher than the FIFA series.

Between 2001 and 2006, PES dominated with average critical scores of 93% for the first three years, even in 2006 a score of 88% represented a win over FIFA.

Photo of ISS 2 (1997). Credit: PDAlife

Meanwhile FIFA had scores of 88% (in 2003) and 80% (in 2006), and it was not hard to see why EA failed to capitalise on their licencing deals.

PES allowed a more complete experience which was more fun and required the player to improvise, whilst gameplay was tight and incredibly smooth. In short, it offered style over substance.

Eurogamer even listed the original PES as one of the best games ever, an impressive feat considering FIFA boasted a staggering 400 teams with kits and players.

One of PES’ biggest draws was its Master League career mode, which created icons out of generated players and engaged the player-base entirely.

It is a well-known fact that day turns to night eventually, and nothing ever last forever. So even though PES won the first half of the decade, it would never reach those heights again.

But why would that be?

A big reason for this was that EA had slowly realised that they had to rejuvenate their gameplay and to stop focusing on licensing agreements, which looking back at it now is a scary foreshadowing for the future of FIFA.

Credit: EA Sports

A number of features would appear in FIFA which would become commonplace within football games, including power bars, a long career mode, create-a-player and crucially, in 2005, first-touch gameplay. It would be these things that turned the battle in EA’s favour and away from Konami.

Another factor which would later fade PES out of existence is the reach of FIFA. Notably, in the early years FIFA became an competitive Esport, they hosted a World Cup in 2004, and have done so every year since, with the exception of 2020 and 2021 due to Covid-19.

Whilst the cracks were starting to show for PES, in 2009 the football game industry would change forever.

Ultimate Team and PES’ Downfall
Photo of FIFA 09’s Ultimate Team. Credit: Iamgodalmighty92 via Reddit

By the end of the 2000s, FIFA had overtaken PES as the innovative series, and it would seal the end of the rivalry when Ultimate Team was launched in FIFA 09.

First debuted in a spin-off game (UEFA Champions League 2006-2007), Ultimate Team would go on to define the FIFA experience, allowing players to trade Panini-style cards to create their own teams.

At this point FIFA had taken the good that PES had done and made it their own, whilst PES struggled to keep up and lost their identity.

Steve Merrett, who was Konami’s PR mastermind, said that: “EA copied everything that was good about old PES and implemented it in FIFA.”

“PES started to focus on the wrong elements. It went too mad for players that resembled their real-life counterparts, and motion-capture was front and centre. This was the tail wagging the dog. The engine was creaking, and responsiveness went out in favour of realism.”

PES tried to become a better FIFA, and completely missed the boat, and it wasn’t be until PES 16 that their overall critic scores would start turning around, but the decline was here to stay.

Blue Line represents FIFA, Red Line represents PES. Graph created by Alex Driscoll.

In 2009, FIFA 09 sold 8.7 million copies while PES 09 sold 6.9 million.

The trend would continue, and in 2015, whilst FIFA 15 sold 18 million copies, PES 15 only managed 1.7 million.

At the same time, FIFA 09 through to FIFA 14 saw the highest ever critic reviews for the series, peaking at 91% with FIFA 10, and EA would add to their successes; seeing a new manager mode, icons and special Ultimate Team events draw players in – bringing with it the criticism of loot boxes.

In the 2010s, PES sought to reclaim their market share and tried to take on EA at it’s own game, famously signing an exclusive deal with Cristiano Ronaldo’s Juventus, meaning in FIFA 20 it had to be called Piemonte Calcio until FIFA 23.

However, PES’ fate was sealed despite their gameplay being considered noteworthy and in some years better than FIFA, as their lack of popularity, lack of licences and lack of relevancy hindered progress and they slowly faded out.

Credit: Konami

The nails in the coffin came when PES went through another name change, and became eFootball, which Konami said was due to the changing state of the console wars, when it became free to play.

Whilst the original game was positively received, with an all-time highest rating of 82%, Konami messed up the 2021 version of the game, which came as a free update; and things would never be the same again.

eFootball 2021 became universally panned by critics and players alike, and is ranked as one of the worst games of all time, being THE worst game of 2021 according to Metacritic.

This was largely down to various bugs, glitches and the game being borderline unplayable, as well as the lack of content. While Konami offered an apology, eFootball has still taken a massive hit.

FIFA’s Final Kicks

So, what about FIFA?

Despite making some positive waves by introducing women’s teams in FIFA 16 and an interactive career mode featuring Alex Hunter in FIFA 17, fans and critics started to wane off the series after what they were described as making the same game again and again.

Famously, this led to IGN copying their review of FIFA 20 and using it for FIFA 21 after very similar games.

As well as this, the surge in popularity of FIFA led to not only an increase in Esports, but an increase in the toxic community, something that has happened in other games such as Call of Duty and Overwatch in recent years.

Many content creators on YouTube and Twitch started to phase away from FIFA, despite EA’s effort to create more to do in the game, especially in their Ultimate Team.

Critics have also grown tired of the same format. A look at their highest review scores in recent years shows a steady decline, failing to hit 80% since FIFA 19, and Google backs that the series is in decline.

Credit: EA Sports

But all this pails in the fact that FIFA as a game is no more, as EA Sports and FIFA broke off their partnership, and instead of FIFA 24, it will be EA Sports FC.

What is interesting is that EA still retains the licences, only losing the FIFA tournaments, such as the World Cup and Club World Cup; and EA Sports can simply make their own tournaments, like what Konami used to do.

Only 20 years ago FIFA prioritised licensing above all else, and now they backed off from their major partnership over money, according to rumours.

What happens to FIFA now? Well, they plan on making their own games, whilst EA have now a monumental year ahead of them.

The Future

The next 12 months are extremely important for both Konami and EA Sports, as it will mark the first time since 1993 where there is no FIFA vs PES debate.

Konami will hope they can rebuild trust and their reputation in eFootball after their disastrous attempt, and EA Sports will need to show everyone what they can do after their divorce from FIFA.

Can both successors to the two biggest titans in football video games please critics and fans alike, or will their legacy be sealed?

However, this is only one side of the coin when it comes to football games, the other half of course is management.

FIFA has had a fair share of spin-offs, including FIFA Manager and FIFA Streets as well as tournament specific games, but for a proper management simulation, we will go back to 1992.

Join me next time when we explore the world of Championship Manager, and how publisher Eidos and Sports Interactive’s divorce would create the world of Football Manager.

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