PES team lead Jon Murphy has spoken out against the view that Pro Evolution Soccer is inferior to the franchise of rivals EA Sports - FIFA - suggesting that not only have Konami "always had a product quality lead on [EA]", but that the teams who've worked on FIFA have "a long history of copying PES to get to where they want to be".
"You can talk about two things: the quality of the product and the sales of the product," said Murphy in a revealing new interview with Eurogamer. "In terms of the sales of the product, clearly EA has been pulling right away from us. To be fair, if you look directly at the UK, we've never had a lead on them. We've always had a product quality lead on them, but we've never overtaken them in sales. There's always been a sales gap. The sales gap has grown in the UK. That's obvious. It's partly due to the quality of the product, which we've been improving and now stacks up easily against FIFA with this version. But it's also to do with the money spent on marketing and the money spent to lock us out of licenses.
"There's a certain amount of work they've done very well on PR to convince people that the gap is bigger than it actually is."
Murphy acknowledges that there's been a turnaround in public opinion - that the PES golden era has been replaced by a slump, though he insists that the series has been making a massive comeback over the last couple of years, something that we noted with our review of last year's title.
"Opinion has turned against PES in a way that's been helped along that isn't necessarily born out by the quality of the product recently," he continued. "There was a period of dissatisfaction with the product with good reason - several years - where we didn't know where we were going. But recently the quality of the product has come back, and I don't think we've been given proper respect for that because so many have bought into the idea that FIFA is better, just in the same way people bought into the idea PES was much better than FIFA in years gone by, and it took a while for them to get out of that situation because it was so ingrained. We're now seeing the opposite's true. There's an automatic assumption now that FIFA is just better.
"For example, if you look at satisfaction with online experience, we get a lot of complaints from people saying they're not happy with the lag in PES, and that FIFA has perfect online play. We all know if you play FIFA online you have a whole series of problems. I'm not saying we're better online or they're better online, but the opinion swung around to put us under the microscope more than them these days. I also think we don't get enough recognition for the way we tend to innovate still and they do still tend to follow a lot of what we do."
Asked if he was suggesting that FIFA has copied PES in the past, Murphy was unequivocal in his reponse. "Yes," he said emphatically.
"If you look further back into the past of PES you can see they've obviously gone from a game that was totally different from PES to one that started copying PES to one that started taking areas PES did well further into the product they have now.
"There's been a whole series of - and I'm sure they won't disagree with this - taking PES apart and rebuilding theirs in direct comparison. And you see other things, such as the replication of players, which we're now bouncing back at with our Player ID. And there are other recent examples as well where it seems as soon as we're announcing one thing they're announcing the same thing as well. I'm not sure how that happens by accident so often.
"I wouldn't say they are actively doing that right now. I'm saying they have a long history of copying PES to get to where they want to be. People shouldn't forget that's how they got where they are. You can give them loads of credit for how they've got to where they got to now, and you can see it as a totally valuable product in its own right that does have ideas we can all learn from, but we shouldn't forget that PES innovated all of this stuff and they did copy it."
The licences are a bugbear for Murphy too, particularly in light of the fact that Konami have proved peculiarly tight-lipped in the past about the inability to obtain licencing across the board, soemthing that some fans might have taken for a lack of effort or ambition. Murphy is having none of it, and was clearly keen to set the record straight.
"I get a bit fed up with this lack of understanding about why we don't get licenses," he said. "It's not because we're lazy. It's not because we don't try and get the right licenses. It's not that we don't raise budgets to do so. Unfortunately, the reality is, EA is a massive company with large chests of money that can be brought from all kinds of IP, beyond even their FIFA brand, and we can't fight against that. So we've got to just try and be clever with what we can get out of licenses.
"But people need to understand that these are the reasons at play. There just needs to be a bit more understanding when someone says to us, you're just rubbish with licenses. It's not as simple as that."