FIFA vs. PES: The Great Debate
Hi there. This little blog has two writers right now, and we’ve actually known each other for decades in Internet time (which means we’ve known each other for about two years). We’ve done back-and-forths like this for Hardwood Paroxysm, Grantland, even about Lost for a site called Digital Refrain that died quietly a little while back. Jason is squarely in the FIFA camp when it comes to video game soccer whereas I have long sided with PES. Let’s get ready to rumble.
Steve McPherson: I owe everything I know about professional soccer to one video game, the cumbrously-named World Soccer Winning Eleven 6 International. At the time, I had gotten into hockey because of NHL Faceoff ’99 and into basketball because of NBA 2K, so I looked at video game versions of sports as gateways into the sport itself. And in 2002, this game was poetry. Where it really delivered was in the feel of play on the pitch and in the Master League mode, which allowed you to build a team up from a gang of generic scrubs into an international powerhouse by signing players like Ronaldo — although most people probably started by picking up the cheap but blazingly fast Obafemi Martins; still love that guy.
But maybe just as important as what Winning Eleven was was what it was not: FIFA. Back in the day, you had to pick sides in any video game sport. You were either an Electronic Arts guy (Madden, Live, NHL, FIFA) or you were with the indie up-and-comers (2K for basketball, football and hockey or Konami for Winning Eleven). As an independent musician, I took pride in playing Winning Eleven. Sure, it was a little rough when it came to presentation and it didn’t have all the fancy licenses, but that only meant you had to work a little harder to edit the team names and kits. I saw that as worthy, and the gameplay was so obviously smoother and better in Winning Eleven.
But then something happened on the way to Pro Evolution Soccer. As Winning Eleven adopted the naming scheme it had always had in Europe and became PES, FIFA suddenly (apparently) got really, really, really good on the pitch. That’s what everyone told me. So I bought FIFA 13 and I have to say: meh. It’s obviously an accomplished and tremendously slick game but I just found it boring in any of the modes. Nothing grabbed me. I played the Career mode for a while, but as a striker I spent most of my time waiting for the ball before scoring and as a midfielder spent none of my time shooting or doing anything fun.
The equivalent of Master League felt like alternately too much work to understand and not enough to do. In essence, it just wasn’t sinking its teeth into me the way PES has always done. And now with new editions of both FIFA and PES set to drop, I’m planning on going back to my old friend PES, which apparently boasts all kinds of new graphical power thanks to Hideo Kojima’s Fox Engine, borrowed from Metal Gear Solid. Even that speaks to PES’s wonky charm. It’s a misfit, a weirdo, but one that rewards attentiveness with beautiful gameplay.
So explain to me why I should drop my nerdy librarian girlfriend and go after the popular, beautiful FIFA.
Jason Concepcion: Full disclosure: I have never played Pro Evolution Soccer. I have no idea about the relative merits of the PES engine, the crispness of the graphics, or the feel and playability of the animations. My argument, then, is based not on experience of this particular game, but is based on the arc of two competing technological formats from our youth: Betamax and VHS.
Once upon a time, these two, now archaic, home video formats battled it out for the right to sit their gigantic clunky-ass frames on top of our giant, wood-paneled living room television sets. The Sony Betamax actually was, technically, the better product, in terms of the quality of the video. Betamax tapes ran at higher speeds, producing better quality images than VHS, at the cost of tapes with less recording time; Betamax tapes would run for an hour while VHS tapes ran for two hours, then four hours. Sony stubbornly decided to counter VHS’s advantage in run-time by touting their formats edge in picture quality.
Unfortunately for Sony, folks just wanted to have the ability to tape more shows on one tape without switching rather rather than have a higher resolution recording that only lasted one hour. And as people started switching to VHS, video rental stores had more reason to stock only that format meaning people had more reason to buy VCR’s, and the momentum of the market turned against the Betamax. More VCR’s in homes meant tape manufacturers were making more VHS tapes, and, eventually, little-to-no reason to make Betamax tapes. Sure, the format hung around in Asian markets for a little while, but the fight was essentially over.
What does this have to do with FIFA v PES? Simply put, whatever PES’s qualities in graphics and gameplay, FIFA just has more stuff. PES has 13 licensed stadiums, and five generic stadium. FIFA has over 60 stadiums, 32 licensed. Like the English Premier League? Well, I hope you like Manchester United, because all you’re going to get is Old trafford. PES features 8 fully licensed leagues–including Spain’s Liga BBVA, France’s Ligue 1, and the Argentine Primera Division–and four partially licensed ones. Once again, for fans of the English Premier League, if the Red Devils are your team, you’re in luck, David Moyes’ (god, I love typing that) Manchester United is the only licensed Premier League team. FIFA has 30 licensed leagues, with 600 clubs. Want to deep dive into the English second division or mess around with Scottish Premier League, or take BCS Young Boys (imagine saying to someone “I play for Young Boys) of the Swiss Super League for a spin? Well, then you’re going to be playing FIFA.
PES may have had the edge in gameplay and graphics. They may even still have it. But just like the Betamax, it isn’t enough. FIFA just has more.
Steve McPherson: Am I showing my hand too much if I tell you that my parents bought a Betamax VCR first? For this reason alone, I think your analogy is in many ways a perfect fit—although I’ve long heard that VHS won the videotape format war because its cheaper price meant it was the preferred format for porn and where the porn goes, the dollars go.
But back to the matter at hand: I know the new Fox Engine has supposedly given PES a substantial graphical boost over FIFA. Historically, though, I think PES hasn’t even looked better than FIFA. All it’s really had is gameplay, and I would posit that that should be the most important thing to anyone playing a game.
I appreciate and acknowledge FIFA’s depth when it comes to licensing. But I’ve barely got a handle on the Premiership and a handful of other European leagues. I can’t be bothered with diving into the Eredivisie with both feet, much less the second division of the K League. To me, this makes FIFA feel like a lot of open world games: sure, there’s endless tons of stuff to do out there, but I’ve got stuff to do in this open world we call life. I want a game that delivers that loop of gameplay in a mode that sucks me in and that’s about all I need.
Maybe it’s because I’ve never been beholden to a single team. At first, I liked Ajax because (seriously) I read an article about them in Harper’s. Then I liked Celtic because I’m kind of Irish. Then I liked A.C. Milan when they had Shevchenko. At various times I’ve liked different teams because of the players on them, and then those players move. For this reason, I’ve always loved PES’s Master League mode. You make your own team and then slowly collect the players you like and mess with formations and tactics until you really get the thing humming. Underdogs to champs is what I want out of a game.
Of course, this has delivered us squarely back to the moral aspect of these games. I started playing PES back when EA Sports was so clearly the enemy in every way that I felt very strongly that I wanted to support whatever game was chipping away at EA’s market dominance. Is that way of thinking about it just outmoded? After all, NBA Live is now the insurgent and there isn’t even any competitor to Madden anymore. Do I just need to surrender and buy in? Keep in mind this is coming from a guy who stopped pulling for Man City when they got rich and good.
Jason Concepcion: Morality, schmorality, Steven. It’s not like FIFA 14 was made off the backs of slaves like the Qatari World Cup stadiums. And your argument that you don’t really have a specific team, well, that’s a great reason to go FIFA. More teams, more players. One of the most aspects of FIFA is the ability to learn about players you would otherwise never have heard of via their licensed names and likenesses. FIFA’s deep stable of players and teams makes that possible. Sure, you like a focused game experience, and many who have tried both prefer PES’s gameplay mechanics to FIFA. But recent reviews suggest the gap is closing. And, most damning of all, Pro Evolution 14 won’t be on next-gen consoles. What does that tell you about how Konami views the future of the franchise? Come to the future.
Steve McPherson: I really liked how you called me “Steven” right there. It lends a real sense of authority to your argument and I’ll admit: I think you’ve got me. I may have to get both, but I feel like I have to give FIFA yet another shot this year. I’m even thinking maybe it’s time to get back to my roots and go all in on Ajax again. I don’t even know who’s on the team. But maybe that’s one of the best things about playing games like this and sports in general. We come in not knowing anything. At one point, even the most diehard fan was a neophyte. Everyone goes through this learning process. Some of us just get started later.
Ooh: Unless FIFA has the NASL. Then my pick would be easy.
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