The Pro Evolution Soccer series or eFootball Pro Evolution Soccer as it’s officially known is an annual fixture for football fans. With the latest game in the series, PES 2021 slated to be a season update at a budget price tag due to publisher Konami moving to Unreal Engine for future instalments, we wondered what we could expect from this year’s entry. Ahead of the PES 2021 release date of September 15, we spoke to Jonas Lygaard, Senior Director – Brand and Business Development at Konami to find out.

While the ongoing coronavirus pandemic has stalled game releases and even next-generation console launch details, we had to ask Lygaard if PES 2021’s development was influenced by it.

“While the ‘Season Update’ approach for PES 2021 was planned before the pandemic, it has certainly slowed down some internal processes, but overall the global teams have adapted quickly,” he says. Nevertheless, it did hold up other aspects of the game’s development.

“The main impact has been the delays to the regular football season finish, which leads to delays for in-game metadata,” he says. “However, we’ve addressed this and will deliver a day one patch to ensure that the majority of leagues, teams and players are up to date. That being said, there will be some licenses that we will need to update post-launch via a Data Pack.”

PES 2021 player ratings and how they are determined

Like most sports games, in-game football stars are given a rating to reflect their real-world performance. These usually result in a lot of controversy post-launch from fans as well as professional football players featured in the game.

The process behind assigning a rating to a player is a lot more thoughtful than you’d imagine. It’s not a bunch of game developers sticking arbitrary numbers onto the performance of Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo. The approach entails the use of actual football scouts, we’re told.

“You might be surprised to learn how much resource and expertise goes into determining player ratings each year,” he says. “We have an extensive data team all over the world who are using many of the tools that professional football scouts use, and some members of our team actually come from a scouting background. The important thing to note is that our analysts are keen football fans and so all decisions are based on real-world performance.

In terms of reactions from players themselves or fans, we recognise that there’s always a good amount of conversation or debate related to ratings each year and we love to see that.”

PES 2021 official clubs and leagues

Being one of two football games on the market and the one with the smaller marketing budget, Konami has had to be smarter with the licenses it can afford to bring in-game.

It lacks the Galactus-like reach of EA but has managed some major coups such as Juventus and Roma being exclusive to PES 2021 with the former being available only in PES 2020 last year. Does Lygaard and his team have a wish list for future titles?

“[T]o be honest, there’s a long list of both clubs and leagues that I’d love to see in future titles,” he says. Though Konami will be shrewd with its efforts he explains.

“We’re always open to exploring new relationships with football organisations, as I hope we’ve shown, but we have to evaluate the return on investment for each opportunity and also be aware of the competitive markets,” he says.

Does PES 2021 have scripting?

One of the unique aspects to PES has been its presentation. Rather than mimic TV-style broadcasts like past FIFA entries, Konami’s take on the beautiful game feels a lot more immersive as does its gameplay versus the competition.

While Lygaard isn’t directly involved with development, he did state that “it’s a result of many years of refinement” resulting a scenario where “no other football simulation game provides the same level of gameplay as PES does.” The myriad of gameplay tweaks he says, serves as a crucial reason for convincing “more people to try it out and believe as we do.”

That said, we did bring up one of the more controversial elements of PES’ gameplay — the presence of scripting. It alters AI and difficulty making the experience less than satisfactory earning the anger of fans. Is scripting present in PES 2021? From a development standpoint: why is scripting necessary?

“We have no comment at this time,” he says.

It’ll be interesting to see what the PES community unearths after its time with the game. Given that PES 2021 retains a lot of what PES 2020 was, we won’t be surprised to see scripting return.

Konami’s use of scripting hasn’t gone unnoticed by the Indian gaming community.

PES 2021 PC regional pricing and performance

Although this won’t be the case with PES 2021 as Konami has stated earlier, he reiterated that the visual presentation will be similar to what was found in PES 2020. And yes, this would be the case for PC as well as iterative consoles like the PS4 Pro and Xbox One X.

“We don’t have anything specific to share regarding performance across each platform,” he says. “With the overall ‘Season Update’ approach, our players should expect similar performance in PES 2021 that was found in PES 2020.”

On the topic of PC, the price for the PES 2021 update has been pretty fair for India at Rs. 800 but the PS4 and Xbox One versions cost Rs. 1,999. While it appears that Konami follows Valve’s guidelines on PC, what’s stopping price parity for console players? Lygaard could not comment on these decisions but he did shed some light on why it is so.

“I can’t comment on regional pricing and differences per platform as there are varying policies for each platform and location,” he says.

PES 2021 on PS5, Xbox Series X, and Xbox Series S

As for the PS5, Xbox Series X, and Series S? Would Konami support backwards compatibility or programs like Smart Delivery? Lygaard’s response suggests that we’d get answers closer to the release date of Sony’s and Microsoft’s consoles.

“We don’t have anything to share at this time regarding backwards compatibility, but we will aim to provide a clear answer on this by the time both consoles launch,” he says.

When you consider how other franchises like FIFA and NBA 2K have approached this, it will be interesting to see if Konami tries to charge for a next-gen update. Perhaps the company’s reason for holding off is to make a move once the dust settles on PS5 and Xbox Series X launch plans.

PES 2021 Lite release date

Konami tends to release lite versions of PES a few months after the main game launches. As the name suggests, it’s a pared down variant with fewer modes such as MyClub while the likes of Master League and Matchday are absent. We wondered what’s the point of doing this after the full game is already out. It seems like a move designed to earn the ire of those who paid full price. Lygaard assures us that this is far from the case.

“Since we started offering a lite version of PES each year, it’s been an incredibly successful way to allow new or lapsed PES players to try a fresh football video game experience,” he says. Aside from growing PES’ user base, it helps make for an improved experience.

“We closely analyse all feedback and behaviour from our players, regardless of whether that’s the full game or lite, and work to build a better game,” he says. “In terms of a lite version for PES 2021, we don’t have anything to announce at this time.”

That said, we won’t be surprised to see PES 2021 Lite available a few months after launch much like PES 2020 Lite did last year.

The future of PES on Unreal Engine

PES Mobile migrated to the Unreal Engine awhile back and Konami recently revealed that PES 2022 will also run on Epic’s game making tech. One of Unreal’s greatest strengths is the ability to have a game with the same feature parity across platforms like Fortnite.

Could we expect Konami to follow suit, allowing for a cross-platform experience or at the very least a Nintendo Switch version since Unreal supports the hybrid console? Lygaard left us with the prospects of what could be.

“Again, while I’m not directly involved with development, I would say that an engine transition is a big decision and impacts all areas of the game,” he says. “Our experience and feedback from PES Mobile on Unreal Engine have only been a positive one. More broadly, the Unreal Engine allows our development team to look at our game from completely different angles and gives the team more opportunities to bring PES to a whole new level. We don’t have anything more specific to share, but we’re open-minded to new possibilities.”

PES 2021 releases on September 15 for PC, PS4, and Xbox One.