Feature Article

How EA And FIFA Beat Konami And PES To Football's Biggest Licenses

Konami says PES 2019 has more officially licensed leagues than ever before, while FIFA 19 has gained the Champions League for the first time in a decade.

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PES 2019 is out and it went down a storm with critics, who have praised the game's animation, physics, and improvements to goalkeepers. It feels better than ever, they say. Job done then, well done everybody, let's go home and win the Champions League on Master League.

Ah. About that.

PES has lost UEFA's flagship license to its primary rival, FIFA 19. For lots of people, this is a huge deal, and it's the exact reason FIFA is so popular. Year after year, the majority of critics agree that PES outclasses FIFA on the pitch, yet EA's behemoth continues to outsell Konami's challenger, largely because of its range of licenses. There's definitely something to be said for being able to accurately replicate the experience you see on TV or in the stadium every week--we all pretended we were David Beckham as kids for a reason, after all.

In response to this latest loss--of the highest-level club competition in the world--Konami says it has acquired more licensed domestic leagues than ever before, with the Russian Premier League and Turkish Super Lig added to Pro Evo this season. But what about top divisions such as the Premier League, La Liga, and the Bundesliga? Why are Arsenal, Liverpool, Barcelona, and Schalke officially included in PES 2019--complete with full scans of every player and the clubs' stadiums--but Manchester United, Real Madrid, and every other German club excluded (except for the prestigious names of Man Red and MD White, of course)?

To find out more about what goes on in negotiations between video game publishers and football's biggest governing bodies, we spoke to Pro Evolution Soccer's European brand manager, Lennart Bobzien, who explained why Konami must make do with approximations of the world's biggest clubs.

GameSpot: Why can Konami have official versions of Arsenal and Liverpool but no more teams from the "English League?"

Bobzien: The Premier League have signed a deal exclusively with EA, which means that we are not able to feature the Premier League in the game. So for example, the Scottish league is not exclusive, so we have it, [and] EA have it as well.

But the Premier League actually made an exception on the agreement, where they said we are still able to feature the league [in a non-licensed fashion], which means that we have all the clubs, like Manchester United for example is called Manchester Red--we are not allowed to have the club's name and the club's kits, but we have all the players. So, for example, with Pogba--his name is Pogba, not like back in the days of PES 2 where you had fantasy names. The players they have their real names and also the real player likenesses. Because that's then actually part of [players' union] FIFPro.

We are making use of this license to have all the players fully licensed in the game. So the Premier League have allowed us to have the league in the game, but non-licensed. When it comes down to licensed clubs, we are limited to two clubs. It's not up to us. It's up to the Premier League to change this rule. We would love to have more clubs, but we can't simply. That's the reason.

With the Bundesliga for example it's even a step further where the Bundesliga is 100% exclusive with EA. We can't even have the fake League in the game and we're only allowed to have--I think it's three teams from the Bundesliga. So we can pick and choose. We can reach out to all the clubs, but it's limited to three for the Bundesliga and two for the Premier League.

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What can Konami do then? Does The Premier League's agreement with EA stop Konami from acquiring more licenses?

Right now, the Premier League won't do exclusive. To be honest, I mean personally speaking, I don't really understand why, because the Premier League is the biggest league in the world. If I was a club like--I don't want to offend any fans--Crystal Palace [for example], ideally me as a club, I would like to see my club being featured in both football video games.

Is it a similar situation with La Liga?

Correct. You can treat La Liga similar to the Premier League, where we are not allowed to have it fully licensed, or the league licensed--but we can have fantasy names.

So presumably La Liga has an exclusive deal with EA, and you're allowed a certain number of teams within that to feature officially?

Yes, correct.

And France is fully licensed?

France is fully licensed, Holland fully licensed as well. Then Belgium, Switzerland, Denmark, Scotland,Turkey, [and] Russia, exclusively. With Russia, we are the ones who have the exclusive rights, so our competitor FIFA, they can't even have them in the game at all, which is great for us. [As another] example, we have the Italian League [and it's called the] Italian League. We don't have the rights to the Serie A [name], but all the teams are fully licensed apart from Juventus, since they have a partner deal with EA.

So Juventus are exclusive to EA?

We have them featured in the game, but with a fantasy name.

That was the same last year with Real Madrid, right?

Yes, correct … This year we have Ronaldo in the game, but obviously he will play for a fantasy team.

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So is the name of the Italian league itself a separate license to that of the teams within it?

Yeah, so it depends from league to league whether a league is centralized or not. So, for example with the Scottish league, that's one that's centralized, which means [if] we talk to the league, then we are signing a deal with [all the clubs within that league]. We're getting all the licenses.

With the Serie A, the tricky part here is that the main sponsor is actually part of the Serie A naming, so it's [actually called Serie A] TIM. And obviously you need to get their rights to feature the Serie A branding, so therefore that's a tricky one. Obviously in the end … there's money involved and [Serie A's] partner are asking for a certain amount of money and you need to evaluate whether it's worth it or not.

How about lower leagues? I would love to see EFL League One and League Two in PES.

We're always looking into signing new leagues, whether it's lower leagues like the English Football League. We're always considering options. We're exploring what we can do. Whether we will sign this one for next year, I can't really say.

How do you feel when you see EA signing exclusive contracts with teams like Juventus and Real Madrid?

Obviously it's frustrating. For example the Premier League or the Bundesliga, we would love to have those leagues in the game. If we had the Bundesliga or the Premier League in the game, I think this would change the market massively because in the end--obviously I'm saying this because I work for Konami--from the visuals to the gameplay, our game is just by far the best football game out in the market.

And obviously that's frustrating, but … it's not like we sign the league [just so we can] put another league on our list or on our website. Actually we are putting more attention towards those leagues by actually recreating the faces. In our competitor, if you look at some of their teams, even their Bundesliga teams, the players, their faces, they just look below average. And that's actually where we stand out. Our team in Japan do incredible, amazing work to actually recreate player faces to the finest detail, and that's what makes us stand out.

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What happened with the Champions League license? Did the contract simply expire, or did Konami or UEFA decide to end the partnership?

Obviously we had the Champions League featured in the game for years--I think a decade now--but year over year you need to evaluate whether certain licenses are worth it or not. And no disrespect to the Champions League--it's the biggest club competition, it's an amazing competition--but in the end actually you also need to analyze actually what we are actually getting out of the license. [And what I would say is,] by losing the UEFA Champions League, it doesn't mean that we are losing clubs. That's what loads of people thought actually when we announced it together with UEFA that we are going different ways.

For the Champions League, we are still in touch with UEFA to explore opportunities, how we can work together in the future. But after this announcement, friends of mine thought, "Oh, now they're losing Barcelona," because Barcelona plays in the Champions League. That's not the case. We are not [losing] any team rights from the UEFA Champions League, and therefore just for now, we've decided not to renew the contract. But then at the same time obviously also we've shifted our focus towards signing loads of new local leagues and also signing some of them exclusively, like the Russian League.

And even though we've lost this competition, you can still play a similar competition in the game. It might look a bit different, but yeah, you can still play with European teams against each other.

Finally, are there any restrictions on how close you can get to real life kits, badges, etc. with your fantasy versions in PES? Because they're often wildly different.

You can't replicate it one to one, but you can get quite close. But obviously there are restrictions. For example with Manchester United, you can't just remove the tick and the badge, and the kit looks exactly the same. So you still have to be a bit distanced from them, but you can still replicate them more or less. Same colors.

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Oscar Dayus

Oscar is GameSpot's Staff Writer, and as the youngest member of the UK office he's usually the butt of the joke.
Pro Evolution Soccer 2019

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