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How are football licenses affecting the gaming industry?

So, are you a FIFA fan or PES player? For years, Electronic Arts’s FIFA has been the only PlayStation game for football enthusiasts, thanks largely to it having the licensing rights to use club, competition and player names and images from around the world, but Konami’s Pro Evolution Soccer is fighting back.

Konami has recently signed licensing deals with three leading clubs – Barcelona, Liverpool and Borussia Dortmund- giving it the right to use the crests, kits and stadiums of these clubs in the latest version of PES.

“The challenge for us is actually trying to follow a path that fits in with PES that doesn’t fight EA, because what they are doing and what they have is, unfortunately, a completely different world to what we have,” PES Global Product and Brand Manager Adam Bhatti told Red Bull Games following the announcement of the licensing deals. There are hopefully plenty more licensing deals to come, Bhatti added.

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However, lacking licensing has certainly not left PES out in the cold. The quality of the gameplay has helped it develop a substantial following among both football supporters and gamers, and ways to get around licensing have existed for almost as long as gaming has. One of the easiest way to do it with sports games is to rename the players.

Past PES examples include tree trunk-thighed Brazilian defender Roberto Carlos becoming Roberto Larcos and feisty Northern Ireland midfielder Neil Lennon becoming Neil Lemon. Some alternatives were intended to raise a smile, such as former Chelsea man Samuele Dalla Bona’s rechristening as Samuele Dalla Boner. However, if there’s a joke behind former Germany captain Michael Ballack’s rebranding as Michael Kruger, we’re still not sure what it is.

Another way to get around a lack of licensing is to make it a non-issue by ensuing the games captures the footballing experience and presents it in unique fashion. Doing so means the details licensing deals provide become just that – details. This approach has proven successful across a range of genres and platforms, and The Champions Cup slot game by NetEnt Casino is a prime example of it.

In many ways, the choice between FIFA and PES is an ideological one, defining where you stand on the gaming spectrum. Are you searching for authenticity, looking to the closest thing to stepping into the boots of your favourite player as they take to the field in the world’s most celebrated stadiums? Or are you all about the thrill of the actual gameplay? However, PES is gradually blurring the distinction, going to extreme lengths to make the grounds of the clubs it has licensing deals with uncannily realistic.

So where do things go from here? Konami is actively seeking more licensing deals, and Bhatti is confident they will be able to secure them, which means the ideological divide between PES and FIFA could narrow even further.

“I think these partnerships make a lot of sense,” said Bhatti. “We are lucky because we have got three really big teams, all with a lot of history, wanting to work with us. I think the fact that we have them already means it should be much easier to go and partner with as many teams as possible in the future.”