With the addition of eFootball within its title, this year’s Pro Evolution Soccer symbolizes a push in the online gaming space with a focus on PESLeague and eFootball Pro tournaments. Of course, with FIFA also upping its game for this year’s release, it’ll be interesting to see as to the game fares in the public eye. Needless to say, Konami have worked hard to secure partnerships, and recently announced that Bayern Munich, Manchester United and Barcelona would be authentically represented within the game. I spoke to Lennart Bobzien (European PES Brand Manager) about the game, and got to ask him about these exclusive partnerships, together with how Konami will calibrate the football franchise in the wake of next gen technology. Enjoy!
For PES 2020, you’ve announced a number of features that will be included in this year’s game that weren’t included before. What sort of meetings does the development team and its parent company have to undergo? How do these these ideas and new features get vetoed and accepted by the Board as something that the company wants to go ahead with? How much of it is a case of reacting to what your competitors are doing, such as FIFA, and how much of it is a case of, you know, the original stuff that you have? I know that obviously in some ways you guys are reacting, but some also in some ways you’re acting as well. Where you guys are in a two-horse race trying to get the best clubs and licenses, the best realism, the best “hey we’ve got this and our competitors don’t have this”… What sort of decision making process do you go through in order to ensure that certain ideas are baked enough to the extent that they are taken on board by the development team and taken forward to the following year’s PES game?
So first of all, for us and for the PES series, our ambition is to be the most realistic football simulation, and that’s the trademark of the series since the beginning. And therefore, we are spending loads of time with not only Andrés Iniesta, but also with, like last year, we spend loads of time with our partner clubs. So we met their staff, we met their fitness staff to get feedback from them. We showed them the game and asked, “okay, what do you think about that? Can we improve it somewhere?” And then they gave us some tips on how we could improve it, how we could make it more realistic. And for our team, obviously, they have loads of ideas and not every single idea can be implemented due to the time. And for us, it’s very important, since it’s an annual game, that you need to obviously include new features on a yearly basis and we just wanna make it as realistic as possible, and I think that’s something which stands out from our competitor. And especially, as you’ve just mentioned that our competitor has certain features in their game that we might have, and especially this year if I look at all the game play features from our competitors, it’s quite nice. I take it as some sort of compliment because when you see that they are introducing some features which we already had in the game maybe two years ago. It’s really good to see because it means that they see it, they spot this and say, “that’s quite cool and we want to have that in the game”. That’s from a game play point of view. But also we understand that modes need to be updated, need to be improved such as Master League for example. This year we are including a completely new mode, this Matchday mode which is very exciting for us since our community, our fans, have asked us for a new mode for years. And now we’re finally done and we can provide them with a new mode which is very, very interesting. And obviously also E-sports is a huge factor for us – especially this year since we positioned ourselves by including e-football. For us, E-sports is becoming more and more important moving forward.
The basis for Matchday mode’s inclusion is based on the fact that you have worked really hard for these partnerships and to get these authentic teams onboard – for example Manchester United versus Barcelona, who are part of the three partnerships that you’ve announced this year. So they are playing on some hypothetical future date, and Matchday will be a part of that. I understand that there’s always a tug-of-war with EA, and that sometimes you win and sometimes you lose. You’ve had partnerships that have ended… I believe Liverpool was one of them?
With all that hard work on facial capture, body capture, and ensuring that stadiums are represented accurately, what happens to all that hard work after a partnership ends? How do you carry that work across to future PES releases knowing full well that due to the loss of certain licenses, the associative captures can’t be used anymore?
Yeah, so it depends on the clubs. If you take Liverpool for example. Liverpool, when we had the partnership with them, they looked brilliant in the game. And now, we can still feature them in the game due to the fact that we can still feature the English league in our game. Obviously, Liverpool will not be fully licensed, but the players will still look the real player likenesses. So it’s been so replicated almost one-to-one on the game, and the player names are still correct. Obviously with other stuff, other items such as stadiums… I mean you’re right, unfortunately we lose them but on the other side, we are also gaining other partnerships like Manchester United – probably one of the biggest clubs in the world. It’s fantastic to work together with them and UEFA Euro 2020… it’s an amazing license. And For us, it’s a statement. When we announced last year that we didn’t renew the Champions League, for us we were always saying that were still having a good relationship with UEFA and were exploring opportunities on how to work together. And now finally the day has come when we can talk about it, and here it is, and no one has to worry that the relationship between UEFA and Konami broke. It’s not the case, it’s just that we re-shifted our focus, and now luckily we are in such a good position where we announce triple A club partnerships, we’ve secured this Serie A license, and now we also secured the Euro license which is amazing. It just means that for our users, there will be content throughout the year, all the way until August next year when we will be back at GamesCom.
What sort of difficulties do you have to go through in order to secure these licenses? I mean, it must be incredibly difficult, knowing fully well that you’ve got a competitor with the kind of influence that Electronic Arts have. So the amount of brown-nosing, if I can use that word, must be so immense from your perspective. What sort of process does the company have to go through in order to secure these licenses? I mean, how many years or months in advance do you have to work so as to get these collaborations going?
I mean first of all I think “brown-nosing” in our case…
I’m sorry, that’s not what I meant.
No, I know it sounds quite bad, but for us in my point of view, we don’t really have to brown nose because the game speaks for itself because of the product quality. And it’s not only the game, it’s Konami in general. People forget what kind of a big player Konami is, and if you then take a step back, if you just look at our product, we have the console game which obviously, I think right now in terms of game quality, we are replicating players and clubs in the best possible way. Like our competitor cannot compare themselves with us when it comes down to product quality like what’s happening on the pitch, how players look like, how stadiums look like. On top of that, we have an amazing portfolio of mobile games, like we have three different mobile games. Our biggest one, PES Mobile which is the football simulation, I think has more than 215 million users, which we can just show these to the clubs, and then it depends if the club is interested, if both parties have some sort of mutual objectives what they want to achieve with this kind of partnership, then we go into the negotiations. And that, when we start talking to them, it just depends when the partnership agreement runs out for example. Obviously everyone is aware in this industry, we are aware when a partnership is running out, with all clubs and leagues, we are on a continuous basis we are talking to them and we look for opportunities and luckily, this year, or so to say last year, the opportunity came up to actually get into series negotiations or conversations with clubs such as United, Juventus or Bayern Munich.
You’ve obviously spoken about this from the perspective of trying to work with certain clubs, but the game itself is coming out on XBox, Playstation 4 and PC. This is so cliché now, but I will ask anyway. Nintendo have always asked for third-party support, at least that’s what the company states publicly, but given that PES is such a massive franchise, why is it not coming out on the Switch?
I cannot give you an exact reason. I can give you my personal opinion on the Switch. I love the Switch. I think it’s an amazing console. I have one at home and I enjoy playing on it. This year, I can just say from the PES point of view, the game will not come out on the Switch. That’s the fact, that’s how it is. On the other side, Konami as a company, we are aware of the success of the Switch and we are supporting the Switch. We will release Contra, we released Bomberman last year, so there is content coming to the Switch. It’s just that right now, PES will not be available on the Switch.
There is talk of next generation consoles… I know that when PES first came out on the Playstation 4 and the XBox One, you used the old engine, and it hampered you in many, many ways, just even from a graphical fidelity point of view. You obviously were able to fix that from a certain perspective – even though there were massive teething problems during the first two years with the Fox Engine. But now, with the new consoles that are coming out next year, and I know that they’re still a year away, but have you started looking at a new engine or even looked into how you can go about harnessing the power of next generation consoles, and ensure that you’re able to make that leap from current gen – which you’ve obviously mastered – to next gen which will pose its own set of problems?
And this is, to be fair… I’m sorry, but my answer will be similar to the Switch one. We are aware of the next gen, and that’s something that is happening next year obviously, but I cannot really comment on next gen in combination with the PES series, because we haven’t really spoken about anything. So therefore, I don’t want to give any wrong information.
This is more of a personal information… Given the fact that you are the European PES Brand manager, and you’ve kind of spoken about this before, but why do you think PES is the better game than FIFA? Or what is it that attracted you to PES in the first place?
For me, I have to be absolutely honest, I can tell you that I switched to PES in 2002. I think that was PES 2 at that time. I was playing the other game a lot with my brothers and then for some reason, I just sort of found out about that game [PES]. I gave it a go and then I just realized that for me the game play was different. And from that moment onwards, it was still Winning Eleven during those times, when Winning Eleven was released in April and PES in September, and I just stuck to that game and then throughout the years, it became a great success. It became the best football simulation on the market, and I would still say it’s the best football simulation in the market. And for me it’s just that I really enjoyed playing that game. I mean, see when I look at the competitor, the competitor without a doubt, they’re adding some nice features into the game from year to year. They’ve added some nice additions, but for me it’s just like what matters on the pitch, because if I really want to enjoy playing football, I stick to PES and that’s the same like when I’m playing with friends and stuff. If I would play against a friend who is playing a competitive game, or the game from our competitor, I could easily just join in and play the game and even pretend they beat me. But for me, even though PES is very easy to understand, to pick it up… Obviously, you’ll still need to spend some time to master it, and that was always the interesting part for me. It’s just that there are so many occasions, so many different situations where PES is just completely different that it surprises you every time. And that’s just… it’s very close to real football. You don’t know what to expect, what the outcome will be, and that’s what PES gives you when you’re playing a match and that’s why for me, just personally, it’s the gameplay on the pitch, it’s the graphical quality. So overall, it is the better football package so to say.
Lennart, thank you so much.