2021 For Football/Soccer Video Games is Looking Very Different

The eFootball Key Art featuring Lionel Messi

As someone who loves sports games and who tracks the genre as much as I can, the last few weeks for sports video games have been pretty interesting. While EA is drip-feeding information on their upcoming PGA Tour game but we still don’t have any details around NHL 22 (one should come out this year while the other isn’t scheduled until next). Then, this week, we got information on both EA’s and Konami’s football/soccer games and I’m not sure how I feel about either of them.

FIFA 22 and “Animations”

It began on Tuesday (July 20), when EA posted a 30 minute pre-recorded interview session (which you can watch above) that spent a good chunk of that time highlighting animations. Obviously, EA wasn’t going to go into modes or FIFA Ultimate Team (traditionally, that’s a Gamescom in August-type of reveal). But they really wanted to show how their new HyperMotion Technology allows for better and more authentic animations. For them, better animations mean better gameplay.

That’s all fine and good but a lot of this is the kind of stuff you need to play in real-time, not in fine-tuned edited content. With the heavy use of buzzwords, I think a lot of people (including myself) are skeptical. I was so confident that EA would announce a new Frostbite engine this year, which would also mean big changes to their game development process. But, FIFA 22 will continue to use the older engine and that may create problems that HMT may not actually solve early on.

PES no more. Welcome eFootball

Meanwhile, Konami is out here changing their game in many ways. Pro Evolution Soccer is no more. In its place, we have eFootball. On Wednesday (July 21) they dropped a six-minute trailer that goes into their changes, which primarily amounts to a game that won’t have a yearly release but will be constantly evolving over the coming months and years.

It’s an interesting route because it’s such a risk. They’re going the Free to Play model and including cross-platform support. As eFootball is using Unreal Engine 4, it allows them to put the game on multiple platforms including Android and iOS. Apparently, they are building the game on consoles first and adjusting for mobile, so those worried that the game on Series X or PlayStation 5 won’t be fully optimized should not get too angry (but we’ll need to see it in action to really believe).

But their roadmap leaves a lot of questions. It appears that eFootball will launch in Early Autumn (so late September or early October), with new features and elements added over the following weeks and months. But, does this mean that the game is strictly online only? Is the Master League mode gone for good? How much customization will we get with our teams? How will their Match Pass System cost? Those are just a few of the questions I had and I suspect the more hardcore community has many more.

How they market their games

Both games are going in very different directions. I know a lot of people (including myself), thought that EA would go the free-to-play model first but it’s actually no surprise that Konami is going that way. EA will continue to flex its flash and content while Konami will definitely try to push the accessibility angle to appeal to a wider audience. PES games have offered free (Lite) versions in the past. Their support on mobile has always shown that they are targeting developing markets where more people play on their phones than in front of a tv or monitor.

The 2021 and beyond roadmap for eFootball by Konami

Maybe it’s the early shock for fans of PES, but looking at Reddit, the community there is not happy with how that franchise is changing. In most of the posts I am seeing, the complaints are about the graphics. Konami released a tech teaser last year that looked amazing. Unfortunately, this new trailer doesn’t really highlight the graphical improvements. Additionally, there are concerns are that the game is focusing on mobile-first and just porting that version to consoles (which they have stated isn’t the case). 

Konami should have been ready for those kinds of comparisons. This kind of negative reception is what happens when any company sets early high expectations. I’ve always felt that video game developers need to “under-promise but over-deliver”. Give people just a bit to satisfy their appetites but really surprise them when the game is ready for consumption. That didn’t happen (yet!) and now they will have to really go out of their way to win back their audience

What happens next?

If I was at EA today, I’d be pretty happy with the reception eFootball is getting early on. They can use the next few weeks and try to push the angry PES community to their game. Since graphics are so important, continue to showcase the way FIFA 22 looks. Highlight the depths of their single-player and multiplayer content. FIFA has always used its content as the selling point and now they can really use it to their advantage.

For Konami, I hope they are taking the feedback and working quickly to mitigate the misconceptions. The longer they stay quiet, it will only make it harder to win back their community. I tried to skim through the eFootball trailer for any sign of what hardware they used for the footage. If the footage was from anything other than Xbox Series X or PlayStation 5 hardware, they need to announce that and release another trailer showing real 4K-enhanced footage. 

Robert Lewandowski from Bayern Munich celebrates a goal with teammate Serge Gnabry in footage from eFootball

Just over two more months

Considering we should expect both games around early October, we will get a lot more information about both games. Konami has the most work to do and they can’t take it easy. At this point, I would hope they release another beta and turn this opportunity into one where the community can help shape the future of the series. But, if they stay quiet, then FIFA has won the football video game war and they barely had to do anything.