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Opinion: PES is back on form, and that's good news even for FIFA fans

Every football fan should care about Konami's quest to crush the monopoly, argues Dan Dawkins

You might not agree with me, but I think PES 2013 is as good as FIFA 13. In many ways, it's even better. But it barely matters; FIFA has completely, utterly, outsold PES so far.

This week it emerged that the latest FIFA has incredibly sold more than one million copies in just its first week - a feat previously achieved only by three Call of Duty games.

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That huge number should see FIFA 13 outsell PES by even more than last year's 20:1 victory - a staggering ratio given Pro Evo's PS2 heyday, where it was 'only' outsold by around 2:1. In fact, in its PES 5 / PES 6 halcyon days, at its highest point of critical advantage over FIFA, Konami's game sold more copies on PS2 than EA's game.

Those days have long gone.

The shift came when PES struggled - largely, on a technical level - to make the transition from PS2 to PS3 / 360, while FIFA's ambitious, if initially imperfect, 'next-gen' engine gave it a clear visual advantage. EA's work wasn't just cosmetic - the new engine allowing 'true' 360˚ dribbling and superior physics.

FIFA now commands an enviable advantage, after years of genuine gameplay improvements (precision dribbling, manual run prompts, right stick skill moves etc etc) coupled to the ever-present licenses and increasingly innovative community and online modes (like Ulitmate Team).

FIFA's ascension is a masterclass in competitive behaviour: achieve qualitative parity (albeit though imitating a rival's key attributes), innovate on this solid base, stress your Unique Selling Point (USP) - in this case licences - and leverage the power of social dynamics.

"However much PES has improved, FIFA is still excellent. If you invested 100s of hours in one, the other always feels alien"

When FIFA hit a tipping point in terms of sales (probably around the time of FIFA 10), its dominance snowballed into inevitability; exacerbated by the online nature of modern consoles. Even if you wanted to play PES, you'd never find a friend to do it. FIFA owned the playground, and there's no greater sales motivator than peer pressure.

Bottom line: reports suggest that PES 2013 has sold less than it did last year in the UK despite being a much better game. The global figures may not be quite as stark, since PES is strong in southern Europe and South America, but Konami will clearly be alarmed.

Whatever happens, Konami shouldn't give up hope, or lose focus, based on these early figures.

As FIFA proves, gaining critical parity is only the first step of the battle. It takes a year or two for word to get out, and to disrupt social networks and online cliques. EA understands that. It's won the minds of young gamers (who'll buy updates for years), while PES has fought to retain its ageing audience - without appealing enough to the new.

Even now, PES 2013 is a bit too inaccessible. The hardcore depth is why PES is amazing - but it MUST make concessions to entice people back. Old friends who used to love PES have said the same thing: why doesn't the knuckle shot work? *How* hard is the chest and score challenge?

Yet, despite it all, everyone agrees: when you get it right, PES 2013 feels amazing. The shooting, that feeling of contact... it's just not something you get from FIFA, for me at least. PES offers control like nothing else, as precise and rewarding as an old-school Japanese beat-em-up like Street Fighter - what Japanese game design does best.

Konami is just about to open a PES London Studio, and next year's game will use Hideo Kojima's new Fox Engine, so PES 2014 should look much, much better - imagine MGS Ground Zeroes' flawless animations in a football context - and get rid of all that Jap-lish menu and translation nonsense.

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The Master League, while a lesson in RPG-style stat development and feedback loops, exists in a cartoon netherworld where Wearside pay £6.75m for C.Ronaldo (all prices are stated in wages, just unlike real life). It NEEDS to feel western to bring people onboard: from the design of its menus, to tutorials, to Master League language and events.

PES's challenge is staying the course, and not letting these initially flat sales get them down. The game is good. Great, even. It'll speak for itself. But word of mouth is where the battle starts.

As a fan of football games, *everyone* should care about the future of PES. The worst-case scenario is a world without Konami's series, in which FIFA would achieve a total monopoly on football games. In that scenario there's only one winner - and it's not the consumer.

Every great team, firm or competitor is defined by its keenest rival - look at Madrid and Barcelona, Federer vs Nadal, Borg vs McEnroe, PS2 vs Xbox... the list goes on. You stay on top by being *forced* there, a great rival gives definition to your actions and pushes you to reach greater heights.

This won't happen, since the cleverest thing PES did in recent years is latch onto the emerging South American market - consolidated by the acquisition of the Copa Libertadores and Campeonato Brasilerio Serie A (Brazillian league) license - that should keep them buoyant.

Me? I don't really care what game you prefer. I love FIFA, too, and gave it higher scores than PES in PSM3 over the last few years. But what I would say is this: PES 2013 is one of the most sublime football simulations in history, with an utterly staggering depth of control yielding incredible rewards for those with the patience to persevere.

Is it perfect? Damn, no, not by a long stretch - but it does at least deserve an audience. Give the second demo a shot. Rent it for a few nights. Pick it up second hand in a month or so. Hey - or buy it full-price. For those with the patience, it won't disappoint.

Scoff if you will, but score that first chipped R2 shot in a heated Champions League game, or nutmeg your first full back using a taxing R1 / R2 combo subject to *cruel* timing... and it all makes sense.

Like any team under pressure, PES's first step is to stem the tide. As its confidence grows, results will follow.

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