One of the most impressive things about John Riccitiello’s tenure as Electronic Arts’ CEO is the transformation of the company’s sports franchises. A decade ago, EA’s sports games were big sellers, but weren’t very good compared to their competitors. NFL 2K was superior to Madden NFL for example, and FIFA was a shadow compared to Konami’s Pro Evolution Soccer, or Winning Eleven if you prefer. ProEvo was one of studio Konami Computer Entertainment Tokyo’s great achievements in the late ‘90s, a champion that floored FIFA in terms of quality if not popularity.
Not anymore though. ProEvo is now the shadow compared to the best-selling and critically lauded recent entries in the FIFA series. EA Canada slowly transformed the series into a powerhouse between 2006 and 2012. Now Konami is looking to do the same for its series.
Konami is opening a new studio in London called the PES Production Studio. It will work alongside the Tokyo team. Its primary goal according to Konami will be to “adopt and recreate local football culture” as a method of reinvigorating the series.
The latest entry in the series already puts a greater emphasis on narrative, trying to bottle the drama that surround the international football scene, but it’s apparently been difficult to get Konami’s Tokyo team to embrace a broader international perspective.
Speaking with Eurogamer in June, PES Europe head Jon Murphy said, “They’re over in Japan and a lot of them don’t speak English, so there’s a lot of filtering that has to be done in [the communication] process. I can understand where fans are coming from, because in past years we have talked about going down a certain direction and I don’t think we’ve gone far enough down that direction. I don’t think it’s necessarily that we’ve not done what we’ve said. It’s that we haven’t taken it far enough in the past.”
Back when, Pro Evolution Soccer succeeded by having stronger fundamentals than FIFA, rendering a superior simulation of the sport. At this point though, it seems wise to try and compete with Electronic Arts via another avenue. That said, capturing the distinct flavor of different soccer scenes around the world is a massive undertaking. Local matches in London don’t look like local matches in Nairobi, Mumbai, or Tokyo. Does Konami have the man power and funds to pursue that kind of vision? We’ll see as the new London studio takes the series into the next generation of consoles.