Konami’s future as a triple-A publisher is in doubt, but the company is continuing to embrace the free-to-play business model.
The company revealed that it is making a version of Pro Evolution Soccer 2016 that is free to download on PlayStation 4 and PlayStation 3. Konami calls this an “Entry Level” edition, which may make it sound like a demo, but it has a few key differences. Yes, you can get a limited taste of the traditional online and offline modes, but you will also get unlimited access to PES’s MyClub mode.
MyClub is Konami’s answer to the megapopular and lucrative FIFA Ultimate Team mode that publisher Electronic Arts has in its soccer game. In both, gamers put together a dream team of player by buying card packs to build what is essentially a deck of real-world strikers, defenders, and midfielders. The better the card, the rarer it is. You can buy more decks using in-game currency, but you can also spend real-world cash. While we don’t have exact sales figures, we do know that FIFA is easily outselling PES. FIFA 15, last year’s release, was one of the top 10 best-selling games in the United States last year. That means it has sold at least a few million copies just in the U.S. alone — where soccer isn’t even one of the four major sports. That’s compared to PES, which sells around 3 to 4 million globally, according to Konami’s financial numbers.
And that spending is what Konami is obviously focused on now. The publisher is hoping to introduce a wave of new players to its game who may find that they really like the MyClub mode and will spend money on it. FIFA Ultimate Team still requires you to drop $60 on a new copy of the game before you can partake on console. With that barrier still up, and with PES 2016 reviewing very well (read our take on the full game) on PlayStation 4, Konami could swoop in and steal some of FIFA’s momentum.
Of course, this move is in line with Konami’s current strategy when it comes to games. The publisher has severed its ties with Hideo Kojima, the creator of Metal Gear Solid. It has canceled the new Silent Hill horror game. It is, in general, pulling investment out of triple-A game development. Instead, it is focusing on mobile and free-to-play games that have a higher earnings ceiling while costing less to produce.
But PES going free-to-play also seems like one of the first big dominoes that could convince other publishers to make the same choice. Konami’s soccer franchise started in 1995 as Winning Eleven, and it was widely considered the best take on the sport until EA’s recent efforts with FIFA.
After 20 years as one of the biggest games in the world, Konami now sees more potential in giving the game away with the hopes of attracting whales. Companies like Activision and Valve have tried this in limited ways. Call of Duty has a Chinese-only free-to-play game and Valve made its Team Fortress 2 shooter free after years on the market. But PES 2016 only came out in September.
So if MyClub does catch on, other publishers — and especially EA Sports — will likely have to think about how much longer they can keep on charging $60 for access to a mode that is free in the competition’s game.