Feature Article
FIFA: A Franchise Reborn

FIFA and PES: Like United and Liverpool, Pele and Maradona, Cristiano Ronaldo and any player who won't go flying if you breathed near him; ask ten different soccer gamers and it’s likely you’ll get ten different reasons as to why they prefer one over the other. It’s funny how these things work, because there was a time when it wasn’t like this.

There was a time —gather around, kids — when the FIFA series looked like it was going to play perennial second fiddle to the Pro Evo/Winning Eleven franchise. The transformation, from being the game that made hardcore soccer fans instinctively roll their eyes upon hearing its name, has been nothing but remarkable. Who would've thought?

Make no mistake, the FIFA series was never a David to PES’ Goliath — none of EA Sports’ games will ever play that role.

It’s just that, for folks who care to remember that far back, there was a time when PES’ quality was so far ahead of FIFA 's, that we felt confident enough in proclaiming that this will always be the natural order of things. The fact that FIFA has always achieved respectable sales numbers wasn’t the point — EA’s marketing war chest will almost always guarantee that — it was the fact that PES has always been the game for the “real” fan. But that was a notion that gradually became a misconception, starting from when the first batches of Xbox 360s and PS3s hit the shelves.

PES' Fall earlier this gen was stunning, but it's quick rebound is no surprise.

The Fall of PES

The year was 2008. Both EA Sports and Konami have had a year to get their next-gen feet wet by debuting their respective football games for the Xbox 360. As expected, the 2007 releases were timid, safe offerings that didn’t distinguish themselves much or show off even remotely what these glitzy new gadgets were capable of doing.

What wasn’t expected was that the year after that, FIFA found wind in their sails while PES came out with a thoroughly disappointing release of PES 2008.

In any other sport, FIFA would’ve been considered a great game; but in soccer, it had to go up valiantly against PES year after year, and for the longest time, predictably fell short. The old FIFAs weren't terrible, it’s that PES was just a lot better. The games, at the franchise's heyday, were intuitive and sophisticated, allowing you to play whichever style of soccer you preferred with freedom and aplomb — while EA's FIFA struggled, for years, figuring out the difference between a soccer game and a sprint meet.

Even if PES has recently taken steps to regain its lost luster, the switch in consoles really did a number on the franchise. It was hard to figure out why they did the things they did. 

It wasn't the graphics, that's for sure, because it was never their strong suit to begin with. What was most frustrating, coming from this compulsive ISS/PES gamer ever since the turn of the century — PES 6 is still, as far as I’m concerned, the best footy game ever — was that it took away the one thing that made the series so infinitely enjoyable: freedom. For those who haven’t played the game, PES 6 was the closest soccer games have ever got to emulating reality in terms of gameplay. The players behaved like their individual, real-life selves, the pace was measured, there was balance between attack and defense, and most importantly, the ball wasn’t script heavy — meaning that passes lived and died by your aiming and not by a throw of a virtual dice. Sadly, none of this were to be found when PES crossed the console generation divide.

And as PES began its descent, FIFA made its move.

The rise of FIFA, from the depths of mediocrity was a welcome development. But FIFA was no David.

The Rise of FIFA 

Just because your rival runs themselves into the ground doesn’t automatically mean you can capitalize.

Being backed by EA Sports certainly doesn’t hurt — it ensures that you can probably get away with a few more mistakes than a franchise generally could. EA’s famed marketing onslaughts make it easier to both retain more gamers in the fold and attract first timers. More importantly, however, FIFA had its revelation — "slow the damn game down" — at the most opportune moment, just when PES had their mighty stumble.

Timing is everything: As PES began its wayward drift away from its sim roots, FIFA made a lung bursting sprint towards it. For all the baby steps the series has taken since their dreadful early 2000s releases, FIFA 2008 was the one that truly turned the tide. Sure, the game was still overwhelmingly tilted down both wings, but it showed that, in human-versus-human games, there is at long last the possibility to play at a measured pace if we so choose — a far cry from the steroid boosted iterations just a few years ago. Imagine that, a sports game dispensing the use of gimmickry — rocket launcher shots from forty yards, anyone? — and instead tries to portray a deeper version of that very sport.

As PES got more exaggerated, handing sales and, more importantly, critical acclaim to FIFA, the folks at EA Sports crucially did not stop pushing.

Instead, they cranked up the heat, release after release, zoning in on at least one element of the sport that they can try to make more realistic, even if it means making it slightly harder. That may be the biggest lesson of all: No matter what you think of the current state of the game, you have to admit that FIFA took quite a few risks to become the juggernaut that it is today. It certainly didn’t have to, as it was pummeling PES all over the place anyway.

The other lesson here is the direction the gameplay took: how refreshing is it to see a sports game not try to appeal to the lowest denominator? Judging by the sales numbers and acclaims of FIFA 12—not exactly the easiest game to master — perhaps it’s okay to believe that gamers won't throw a game out the window if they can't beat the CPU within the first five minutes of playing. So once and for all, let’s dispense with the myth that sports games need to sacrifice depth in order to gain some measure of accessibility for gamers of all stripes.

If a — relatively speaking — soccer wasteland like America can gulp up copies of FIFA 12, it goes to show that sports gamers will try to learn a game if it is reasonably difficult (and not of the artificial, scripted variety). We don’t mind getting our asses kicked if the AI outsmarts us. In fact, it’s a sign that the game contains depth and intelligence. At the end of the day, even if we’re not huge fans of the sport, we recognize a good game when we play one. 

Competition breeds excellence. Let’s hope that neither game races out to an insurmountable lead, and instead keep on pushing each other to put out their idea of how a soccer game should be. Right now, this truly seems like the golden age for soccer games — FIFA moving forward with a swagger never seen before with the franchise, andPES finally picking up the pieces and hitting its stride. 

And really, who would've thought?

FIFA Soccer 12 Videos
Member Comments
# 1 Cardot @ 01/31/12 04:50 PM
Good article. I am a very casual Fifa fan. I still have '09. Out of curiosity, could someone list a quick bullet/hightlight or two of each version, and the advances they brought to the table. It is interesting reading about the evolution that has taken the franchise to such acclaim.
# 2 ezio @ 01/31/12 07:57 PM
Very well written article but I still think Fifa can improve een further.

There are still things in Fifa that need to be addressed IMO. the lack of fouls and the ridiculous transfers in CM come to mind immediately. Also, I still think there are some things that PES does better, mostly the off the ball movement and I also think it still has more player indiuality than Fifa does but Fifa has come a long way from where it was.
# 3 elprez98 @ 01/31/12 08:14 PM
CPU vs. HUM, FIFA still doesn't hold a candle to PES. Every team in FIFA plays the same. However HUM vs. HUM FIFA shines in some parts. I think if they fix the fouls and give the CPU more AI, it can be the better game.
# 4 Randiesel75 @ 01/31/12 08:24 PM
Agreed, very well written.
# 5 SlimKibbles @ 01/31/12 10:51 PM
I was a somewhat regular buyer of the FIFA series since its start. But, after the debt glitch issue in FIFA 10, which they refused to fix, and World Cup 2010, which had the bug-filled tournament and whatnot, I haven't bought a FIFA game since. FIFA RTWC '98 still remains my favorite FIFA game.
# 6 kelvinmak @ 01/31/12 11:45 PM
Appreciate the comments, folks.

Anybody who's got ten minutes of their lives they're willing to waste, this is a pretty nice vid showing the evolution of FIFA. Cool trip down memory lane, especially for the slightly older ones among us:

(Don't know for the life of me how to embed, so here's the link http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZN_RHOqAymI)

Originally Posted by SlimKibbles
FIFA RTWC '98 still remains my favorite FIFA game.
I loved RTWC '98. Especially the indoor games. Man, they need to bring those back.
# 7 Cardot @ 01/31/12 11:56 PM
Originally Posted by SlimKibbles
FIFA RTWC '98 still remains my favorite FIFA game.
Yes, I also had and enjoyed this one (for the PC). If I recall, each game had a great intro where you would come flying in from outside the stadium, and come in through the tunnel. And wasn't that the one with Chumbawamba...or was that WC98?
# 8 ps3veron @ 02/01/12 07:55 AM
Excellent article! Old school PES fan here who made the jump and I fully agree with whats written.

And just for the record, as a Liverpool fan, we beat United 2-1 last game
# 9 mockme @ 02/01/12 08:20 AM
I'm also one of those former PES-players, and on the last generation consoles I did enjoy it very much and still do whenever I feel like going old school, but right now I am immensely enjoying FIFA on the current gen. Not so arcadeish anymore, while I get the feeling that PES is not as sim as it was anymore.

Anyway, great article!
# 10 cgalligan @ 02/01/12 08:23 AM
Funny how EA steps their game up when faced with Competition...

Are you paying attention NFL???
# 11 cgalligan @ 02/01/12 08:26 AM
2k Hockey was better than EA Hockey... Then EA stepped up and made their game better...

PES was better than Fifa... Then EA stepped up and made their game better...

2k5 was better than Madden... Then EA bought the NFL License?

Are you paying attention... This is the way to do things... Don't buy out your competitor just because you can... MAKE A BETTER PRODUCT!!! The People will Decide which one is in fact BETTER... Don't force feed it down our throats and take away our freedom of Choice...
# 12 jb1 @ 02/01/12 08:43 AM
Good article, I'm an old school PES player that began before that with ISS and my clear game of choice now is FIFA. You have to give them credit for sorting their gameplay out, yes it's still far from perfect but as you alluded to back in the early 00's playing FIFA was a truly painful experience but they have come a long way since then.

PES on the other hand has done nothing but go downhill (although there are some signs of life with PES 12) since the glory days of PES 5 and 6 where licenses didn't matter as the gameplay was as near to perfection as was possible at that time. Since then i've struggled to play any of the Konami releases for more than a few days before discarding the game. From horrible Goalies to players skating up and down the pitch the game I played and loved more than any other for years and years has vanished.

Another factor in FIFA's rise to dominance for me was the introduction of their Ultimate Team mode, yes they raised their gameplay above the level of PES but I think the introduction of FUT was a real hammer blow as that saw a lot of disillusioned PES gamers such as myself get addicted to FIFA in a way that we hadn't before. For all of FIFA's positives it still isn't a game that I can enjoy vs the CPU but the quality of the online multiplayer games keeps me coming back for more. PES tried to offer a rival to FUT but it was too little too late.
# 13 209vaughn @ 02/01/12 10:56 AM
The control I have over my players in both FIFA and NBA 2k is just stunning. Through a controller I have the ability to feel like I'm playing a sport. The controller-player connection is smooth and intuitive.

NCAA and Madden need to rewrite a lot of code to make you feel like you're in complete control of your player and his movements. Fluid controls and controller-player connections need to be tight.

NCAA and Madden controls are simplified and dumb downed. The hardeds position in all of sports is the QB - but in the video game world its a point and click game. Give us deeper controls and controller-player connections need to be tight.
# 14 kerosene31 @ 02/01/12 02:42 PM
The perfect example of how competition makes better games. Each game has pluses and minuses, and each pushes the other to be better every year.
# 15 JimmyDeicide @ 02/01/12 04:05 PM
Originally Posted by 209vaughn
The control I have over my players in both FIFA and NBA 2k is just stunning. Through a controller I have the ability to feel like I'm playing a sport. The controller-player connection is smooth and intuitive.

NCAA and Madden need to rewrite a lot of code to make you feel like you're in complete control of your player and his movements. Fluid controls and controller-player connections need to be tight.

NCAA and Madden controls are simplified and dumb downed. The hardeds position in all of sports is the QB - but in the video game world its a point and click game. Give us deeper controls and controller-player connections need to be tight.
Agree with this except i dont have Nba. The control i get with Fifa is the best in any game.
As for the article its good but the AI outsmarting you? really?
I switch to Pes when i want AI.
# 16 JasonLin @ 02/01/12 07:50 PM
All these are just amazing...

now... EA Sports.. where is NBA LIVE...
# 17 woody2goody @ 02/01/12 07:57 PM
I own FIFA 12 but still play PES weekly, and I have to say that this proves that competition is great for not only the football genre, but for Madden, NBA 2K, The Show and others, which were (and in some cases still are) driven by a rival game.
# 18 LucianoJJ @ 02/01/12 09:08 PM

David Rutter and his team should be credited for the rise of FIFA. For years FIFA was all about eye candy, and licenses. This series has progressively improved the gameplay, ball physics, AI, etc. I love it. Even though I have felt challenged, I do believe I got my money's worth with FIFA 12.
# 19 teambayern @ 02/02/12 12:49 AM
Great article, but I'd like to suggest one correction. Fifa 07 was by no means timid; it was perhaps the most audacious venture by a sports gaming company of the modern gaming era. EA Sports knew that they would never catch up to PES by slowly improving an engine that was, at its core, broken. So it commissioned a separate development team to work on a brand new game and engine, for years, while the other team kept the lights on with Fifa 06. The result was the wildly innovative Fifa 2007, which was raw, unpolished, but wildly innovative. It debuted the engine from which Fifa 08-12 were born. I'm a PES fan, and I'd agree that Fifa 08 was the first game to steal my attention; but you have to recognize that Fifa 08 - 12 have been on the standard one year track. It was Fifa 07 where EA truly took the risk and made the game we have today.

Oh, how I wish Madden would do the same. If ever there was a game that needed a complete reboot...
# 20 Blublub @ 02/06/12 09:05 AM
Good article - I also never would have thought FIFA could hold a candle to PES, but this year finally changed my mind. If the EA team keeps focusing on gameplay improvements over silly flash it's their game to lose...

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