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Today I will be looking at the rise of soccer sims in the world over the past 15 years and how FIFA has began to dominate over its rival Pro Evolution Soccer and why this is.
Now, I have played soccer sims for many years. In fact the first game I ever played was Football Italia 90 for the Sega Mega Drive and I remember the ecstatic feeling of being able to simulate something that I enjoyed so much in life from within my home. Soccer has a huge place in the heart of millions upon millions of fans worldwide and as an avid Soccer fan here in the UK, I follow my team almost daily. The top view soccer sims like Sensible Soccer from the Spectrum through to the Playstation offered little realism in comparison to the sims of today with many popular soccer games of the past such as Actua Soccer and ISS fading with time, only offering nostalgic revisits, which now leaves only two games fighting for the crown as the “best soccer sim”. Well today I’m going to look how soccer has become such a popular sport around America, the reason why we now have only two soccer sims fighting for the “best game” crown, and why one is pulling ahead nearly year by year.
Yes, old soccer games did actually used to look like this (Intellivision)
The two games I’m talking about are of course the FIFA series from EA Sports and Pro Evolution Soccer from Konami. Over the past few years there has been a massive increase in soccer sim sales throughout America and the whole world, as the sport keeps growing as one of the most popular on the planet. People are pre-ordering soccer sims almost as much as some of the most popular games such as Call of Duty, in fact the latest FIFA game was the most pre-ordered game of all time over here in the UK. Since David Beckham migrated from Spain and became a member of the Los Angeles Galaxy in 2007, Major League Soccer has become popular worldwide and become nearly as followed as other major sports such as basketball & baseball. The average crowd at a MLS game (pictured below) now averages 20,000 - 30,000 fans each game compared with the NBA attendance for last year averaging 13,000 - 22,000 each game. This has led to an obvious increase in soccer games' sales and also now more people from around the world watch the MLS following a desired team. NBC now has coverage of all major games across the country with massively Improving ratings and media talk about the sport.
I've spoken to some American friends of mine who aren't intereted in soccer and believe it will take around ten years to come to same level of popularity as hockey. Unlike hockey, soccer has the chance to be in discussion throughout the United States. Many, including myself believe there is a space in sport in America for soccer, and this is proven by how quickly it has emerged as a popular sport played in parks, colleges, and in the streets throughout the country. People are beginning to idolize soccer players rather than football stars and the MLS has seen an influx of talented players migrate from the most talked about league in the soccer world, The English premier league. Republic of Ireland international and former Tottenham Hotspur/Inter Milan star Robbie Keane now plays for LA Galaxy and former French international and Arsenal hero Thierry Henry now playing for the New York Red Bulls. Alternatively there has been some amazing talent going the opposite way which shows America is developing some great players such as Clint Dempsey, who has been in the Premiership for over 6 years with Fulham and Tottenham, and US International main stay Landan Donovan, who has come over twice on loan during the close season to Everton where the fans really loved his passion and enthusiasm for the game. Additionally, former US international goalkeeper Brad Friedel. who has been at two top four clubs since his arrival to the Premier League in 1997, is another one of those players. On the back of the success of soccer in the US, MLS teams have now appeared in soccer sims FIFA & Pro Evo since 2009 and have become a popular choice for many in online games ever since.
When we look back there have been some great soccer games released on most consoles since the 80's with my favorite being Fifa 98 Road To World Cup on the Playstation. In the UK and across Europe, the soccer sims have always been the most popular sports games and the standard has really improved dramatically since the late 90’s. As mentioned earlier above the American market has now been flooded with the soccer sims which have now become as popular as most other sports games. However one game that had faded with time and then re-emerged as a top runner was The Pro Evolution series (Formerly known as ISS or Winning 11 in Asia) This game (from around 2002) has had a cult following and die hard Pro Evo fans wouldn’t even entertain the “commercialism” of FIFA and would only play the Konami title. The following was almost “underground” where Konami didn’t even hold the rights to players names so it made the game feel more personal and less mainstream. in fact, you could rename the players with you and your friends name making a funny fake team for a bit of fun. Players held tournaments world-wide as seen here http://www.pesrankings.com and there was something about the game that constantly had you wanting more. It was the rugged graphics, sharp & distinct gameplay, the game style was more about the overall experience, and the banter with your friends that you focused on, rather than the realism of the sim or the career mode. This was a pure multiplayer experience which at the time was unrivaled. I was drawn into this “elitism” trap along with many others where FIFA wasn’t even worth my time. That was until 2008 when FIFA released FIFA 2009 and since then, like many others, I haven’t looked back.
This rivalry has always been heated and now the US market has such large support for soccer it is apparent which game is taking the crown. This is of course the FIFA series. The fluidity, graphics, gameplay, and life-likeness have won over fans worldwide. As we enter a digital age where games like Crysis & Battlefield offer an experience that is almost life-like, most gamers now want every game to feel as real as possible, and this crosses over to sports games too. Whenever you make a pass or take a shot in the game you want to feel like “you” the player added that small bit of curve that nestled the ball in the bottom corner, just out of the reach of an outstretched arm of the keeper to win the match, or that awesome cross field 30 yard pass that leads to a prominent wing attack, and not to feel like the computer is aiding you in your movement or ability just because you pressed a button and not that players emulate movement like the Tin Man from the Wizard of Oz, all of this is where FIFA got it right. EA has adapted their game to fit in with the current needs of the soccer fan today. FIFA also has some really great game modes that also feel interesting and fun to play like the online career mode where your team is actually affected by what is happening in real life. If players have a bad run of form then they will drop morale in the game and not offer you 100% of their talent in game, on the flip side, if you have a player bang in form who has been scoring consistently week in, week out, then you will find they react better to their potential in game and will consistently put shots on target or have that bit of extra energy in the closing stages of the game.
Pro Evolution Soccer doesn’t offer such perks with its complicated football life mode which was released in the 2012 offering where it gives the standard “become a master” and “master league” modes. Konami have been churning out the same “season mode” and standard online multiplayer for the past five years with little noticeable variation other than updated teams and kits. FIFA however have offered some great new additions such as the “assisted defending” which has made defending an attack far more realistic and easy to manage in game. The graphics also seem to get far more lush every year with pitches looking almost like you could reach out and touch the grass, and character models moving like a real human beings. Each and every run and attempt to win the ball seems genuine whereas Pro Evo feels like you are still playing that rough around the edges soccer game from the Playstation. It really has offered little improvement over the years where FIFA has come on leaps and bounds and this is reflected in the massively improved sales figures for EA’s flagship sports game. So is there still a rivalry? between the FIFA & PES franchises? At the moment there only seems to be one winner.
Overall I don’t think i would ever buy another Pro Evo game. I tried the demo of 13 and it offered me nothing that wanted me to play another game. With its world wide critique, awesome online modes and fantastic realism EA has taken its soccer sim sports to the top and doesn’t seem to be looking back. The advertisements for the game appear on TV daily and I don’t think I’ve even seen a Pro Evo one. I know the game still has a great following in Asia and has an underground following worldwide and this means there is still hope Konami will create a game that will knock the wind out of FIFA and possibly over turn the power balance between the two companies, but looking at the track record, FIFA seems to be going from strength to strength year by year and leaving Pro Evo to bite the dust. Only time will tell whether Konami can learn from FIFA’s success and implement changes that will cater for the soccer sim fanatic. What I do know is that the sport is growing at a massive rate in the states and I really believe that soccer will become as followed as all other sports in years to come. The proof is in the improving performance of the American national team in world soccer events, the calibre of home-grown players that are being produced and coming through in teams all around the globe and the renowned loyal following of American supporters. While the Americans are thinking of their next MLS soccer game for the weekend and sitting back playing a soccer sim after a hard days work, EA and Konami are just watching from afar, with an ever growing cash flow increasing yearly, and along with subtle improvements to their games the consumer will always come back wanting the newest version each year. These guys are onto a winner though it seems EA are currently reeping the biggest reward of the market share.
Have you grown up around soccer games? If so, what did you play? Do you think Pro Evo will ever match the FIFA series? Comment below and let us know!