If Konami reinvents how football games feel, PES could regain the critical highground

Look, FIFA will likely be excellent on PS4, but PES has one key advantage – failure. Only a fool would bet against FIFA, but there was a time when you’d have said the same of Barcelona, Nokia, Kodak, Pete Sampras, and Medal Of Honor.

Invincibility is a temporary delusion that blinds us to alternatives, when history often favours open-minded risk-takers and humility. In truth, PES has never been on top, not commercially.

Even in 2004 during PES4’s critical heyday, its greatest ‘success’ was selling almost the same as FIFA on PS2. Sales deteriorated on PS3, as Konami fell into the three big traps facing successful business – when one is enough to cause problems.

PES can win next-gen footy war

PES’ mistakes were: a) physical – it rolled its successful PS2 engine and iterative development on to PS3, just as EA debuted an all-new game-changing engine, b) psychological – it failed to acknowledge FIFA was the better game, or reacted too slowly, and c) strategic – Konami expected the PS3 market to mirror PS2’s, and didn’t anticipate the future.

Konami has learnt hard lessons, adopting Kojima Productions’ Fox Engine tech for PES 2014, and testing the game on PS3 before moving to PS4. Conversely, early reports suggest EA has taken a more iterative approach to FIFA 14 and, while impressive, some say it doesn’t feel like a generational leap.

“EA is too smart to ignore history, of course, but success creates its own inertia”

If Konami is brave enough to reinvent how football games feel, and EA sticks to an evolved version of its current controls, PES could regain the critical high ground. Konami claims to have an intuitive, weight-focused, dribbling system that could show up FIFA’s right-stick skills as a fiddly contrivance.

Defeat has forced Konami to battle smarter – it’s even opened up a UK PES studio. EA is too smart to ignore history, of course, but success creates its own inertia. Konami is even holding PS4 PES back, giving FIFA a free run in 2013. It’s insanely risky, but Konami is gambling on launching with a truly next-gen football game next year. Will it succeed? Nobody knows – but the gamble is a sign it’s on the right path.