Few years are quite as exciting as 2021 when it comes to football video games.
The two genres, football as a sport and video games, have been entwined for as long as most of us have been playing. From Microprose Soccer to Sensible Soccer, from FIFA to Pro Evo, football has evolved, developed and changed with technology.
It isn’t just home computers that deliver the experience now; mobile devices are just as competent at bringing football to the fans. Handheld gaming machines were first; from the Game Boy to the Nintendo Switch, you could find different versions of FIFA. Football Manager has a lite version you can play on mobiles and tablets, with both paid and free-to-play titles. You can even find football-themed slots on Ladbrokes, such as Football Favourites and Football Star, which work with the game’s imagery and package it differently. The same goes for titles such as Flick Kick Football and Charrua Soccer on iOS; the choice is there for fans. Whether on a tablet, handheld or mobile, there is a huge selection of free and paid-for games covering many genres and styles.
The big money is on those consoles, and that is where two titans have battled for two decades or more. EA Sports have their FIFA title, whilst Konami’s Pro Evolution Soccer series, shortened to PES, has always been the David looking to slay Goliath, or perhaps we should say the Sheriff Tiraspol looking to slay Real Madrid. This year, everything changed.
It started when Konami announced that PES was no more; they were replacing it with something bigger and better. Their new title, eFootball, was going to be free to play, like many iOS and mobile games. With EA Sports making millions from their FIFA game, it sounded too good to be true. Not long after, football fans were left breathless as a third title was announced, a major shift in the dynamics of the football game market. Strikerz Inc. dropped a huge bombshell when they broke the news that UFL was coming, with no pay-to-win elements. It felt like a sliding tackle on EA Sports, so soon after taking a blow to the head. Excitement rose as if suddenly the unchallenged champion had two contenders for the title catching them up.
Instead, the landscape has entered limbo. FIFA came as always, packed with opportunities to separate you from your hard-earned money, but when eFootball landed, the response was horrible. It was a mess, graphically and in terms of gameplay. Konami had rushed the title out, and it wasn’t ready, not at all. Despite scanning players’ faces like Lionel Messi, the graphics were more PlayStation 2 than current generation consoles. Worse was to come; it played like a flat leather football your dog has chewed to pieces. The response was awful; the damage was done.
As for UFL, we’ll have to wait and see. It’s entering a market where there’s now only one dominant force, FIFA, and the other competition has taken a step back 15 years. Football purists want more than the same rehashed principles that EA has traded on for years; they want more than paying to win and loot boxes. Sadly, they’ll have to wait, satisfying themselves with bemoaning FIFA from afar, perhaps while glued to their free-to-play mobile games.
2021 was the year everything changed for football games, albeit not for FIFA, and whilst they’re ahead in the battle, the war is only just beginning.
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