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Pro Evolution Soccer is in for an overhaul — the biggest since its inception. Konami announced Wednesday that its football simulation title is being rechristened simply as eFootball, after a couple of years carrying the unwieldy title “eFootball PES.” But more importantly, eFootball will be a free-to-play title, offering cross-platform play post launch everywhere. eFootball will launch this autumn on PS5, PS4, Xbox Series S/X, Xbox One, Windows 10 and Steam for PCs, with Android and iOS versions to follow soon after. Crossplay on mobile will require an external controller. A live service free-to-play offering is an interesting response to the old model of annual paid releases, one that’s still in use by its biggest rival, EA Sports’ FIFA.
“We started planning this move roughly two years ago to coincide with the console generation transition and changes in the market environment,” eFootball series producer Seitaro Kimura told IGN. “I believe that we have already proven that this structure can be successful on mobile. By applying the same model across all platforms, we hope that more football fans will be able to play this game on consoles as well.” While eFootball PES had been free on mobile devices, Konami had also trialled this strategy on consoles and PC in the past couple of years with eFootball PES Lite, a downsized free-to-play version of the main entry. Now, it’s going all in.
Live service games — including the likes of Fortnite, Apex Legends, GTA Online, or Call of Duty: Warzone — are raking in big money, and Konami is borrowing a leaf out of their playbook, hoping to do the same with hundreds of millions of football enthusiasts worldwide. The free-to-play aspect should theoretically attract more gamers to eFootball, but it remains to be seen if it can pull away some of the crowd from EA Sports, whose upcoming iteration FIFA 22 will continue to be a paid-upfront experience (albeit with predatory microtransactions that have generated much criticism).
As is the case with any live service game, eFootball will see new content and game modes added over time. While Konami isn’t talking about any modes, it did say that local offline matches will be available for free at launch, featuring its partner clubs such as FC Barcelona, Juventus, FC Bayern, and Manchester United, among others. But on top of that, Konami will sell certain game modes as optional DLC in the future — this is going to fork the player base, and hence I’m curious to see how this will fare. Konami has also revealed a roadmap for the first few months, that includes crossplay rollout, Team Building Mode, Online Leagues, a Match Pass system, and mobile controller support.
Designed with a custom football engine that uses Unreal Engine 4 as the base, Konami brought on Andrés Iniesta and Gerard Piqué as development advisors for offensive and defensive gameplay, respectively, on eFootball. Additionally, Lionel Messi and Neymar Jr. serve as global ambassadors, which is to say they will grace the game’s splash screens and marketing materials. The new engine allows for “Motion Matching” that converts player movements into a series of animations — four times as many as before — and picks the most accurate one in real-time. Improved ball control uses R2/RT trigger buttons to decide touch strength, with defenders able to jostle for possession thanks to “Match-up” and “Physical Defending.”
Details are pending on many fronts, including whether eFootball will be an always-online title, what kind of offline game modes players can expect, and other partner clubs and licensing arrangements. Konami said it will address those in the coming weeks and months.
“Starting with the strong foundations of Unreal Engine, which has allowed us to massively overhaul player expression, we’ve made a number of modifications to virtually create a new football game engine that will power eFootball for years to come,” Kimura said in a prepared statement. “With the added power of new-generation consoles and by working closely with elite footballers, eFootball delivers our most tense and realistic gameplay to date. We’ll share specific gameplay details next month, so stay tuned.”