Eric Bladinieres, the regional director at Konami Latin American, recently sat down and spoke with the Peruvian PES fansite TodoWE.
The original interview we were sent was written in Spanish but we've managed to translate the whole thing for you English-speaking PES fans. The Q&A is quite long, but I assure you, it's well worth reading - don't be put off by the article's length as there are some very interesting points made.
A big thanks to Jhon at TodoWE for sending us the article last week. We would have published this sooner, but a busy bank holiday weekend got in the way.
In recent years, Konami have shown a growing interest in the Latin American market and the Middle East. How has this been reflected in the development of your games, especially the PES franchise?
Four years ago I opened the office in Mexico for Latin America, and now we have offices in Mexico, Brazil and soon in Chile. The idea of the project we started four years ago was to investigate what we can do for consumers with Konami sitting much closer.
Konami is a company of 40 years which has been well received worldwide, growing up with games like Contra, Frogger and then later with strong franchises like Pro Evolution Soccer, Metal Gear, Silent Hill and Castlevania. The idea was to make consumers really feel that we are here. We are doing things much more personalized for them and showing them that we really care and listen. And that is why we have seen in the last four years a very strong presence, not just in the Middle East as you say, but specifically here in Latin America.
Right now, how strong is the Pro Evolution Soccer franchise in Latin America? And which are the Latin American countries where we sell PES the most?
Well, we look today and are excited to see the results of Pro Evolution Soccer. Five years ago, I was involved with PES, and five years ago, PES was one of the top 10 games in Latin America. PES has been a franchise that - especially in Central and South America - has been strong since its inception and for Latin American fans, there has always been a very natural affection for the game.
But today, we are very pleased that in the last three years, Pro Evolution Soccer has been the top-selling game in Latin America - of all games that exist in the industry, and not just our competitors.
PES has sold more than Call of Duty, Assassin's Creed and Halo. The truth is that we are very pleased that PES 2012 was the first game to reach 1 million units of sales, this is a record that no one even comes close to. And now, PES 2013 has already sold over 1.7 million units in Latin America - this has been the result and the public response for everything we've done to customize the game and the idea is to keep growing.
The number one Latin American country for market sales is Brazil, a large country with a very strong economy. Mexico is second, Chile is third and the following, not necessarily in order, are Argentina, Colombia and Peru - these are tied to the next level.
How does LATAM Konami work to bring suggestions and concerns of American fans to the PES development team?
We have a fairly complete and developed direct communication with consumers through Luis (@PESlatam) with which you could contact me. However, Luis is part of a complete communication team, he is our main contact for all social networks. We have a person in Brazil and we have a full team that manages all communication, and with the information which comes through these social networks, we can send it on to our managers who have direct communication with Japan.
In the last three years, it's amazing how Japan has heard the specific needs of the consumer. I arrived four years ago and said, "Hey, we need the Libertadores Cup," and they replied, "Yes, yes, we'll see".
Which aspects are Latin Americans seeking to improve, or to see, in future Pro Evolution Soccer titles?
In recent years, we have made many improvements, like buying the licenses for the Copa Libertadores and also the Brazilian League. Today we have teams from all countries in the Libertadores and also Latin Spanish commentators. The truth is: all the time, we are doing more and more things to customize the game.
This year will be a key year for Pro Evolution Soccer. All that has been announced so far for PES 2014 is the new engine. I have to be very honest, I was the first to say, "We need a big change for Pro Evolution Soccer", the game is very good, however, our competition has improved.
A few months ago, I had the opportunity to go to Dubai in November where I was presented with the new engine, and I have to admit that I almost got a tear. It really is amazing what we have done with this new engine. We now have a game-changer. And by this, I mean in the form of all video games, and not just Pro Evolution Soccer.
PES is definitely going to be much better than the competition, any other sports title, and even any first-person game. The truth is that PES 2014 will have amazing animations and graphics.
With the exclusive license of the Copa Libertadores, this is one of the factors of the PES franchise's success in Latin America - but blocking these clubs in the game has prevented us from fully enjoying the Copa Libertadores teams. Can you explain this decision?
It's easy, it's the same way in the Libertadores in real life, or if you want to play the Copa Libertadores champions, you have to be at the top of the league of your country, only then can you play for the Copa Libertadores cup. It's a really big achievement for teams to be part of the Copa Libertadores, and this is the same way we wanted it to be on our Copa Libertadores game mode.
It doesn't makes sense to play with Colo Colo of Chile and then play FC Barcelona when the clubs have nothing to do with each other in real life, they are friendly games. This was also a request from CONMEBOL - the Copa Libertadores rights stated these teams would stay within the concept of the Copa Libertadores mode.
For PES 2014, we are in May and Konami still haven't shown the game. It has been revealed the concepts and fundamentals of the game, there was a picture of Kei Masuda bordering on reality, and a new license [AFC Champions League] has been announced. Fans are eager to know a little more about the game. Is this the month for the PES 2014 announcement, or will we have to wait a little longer? What can you say?
I wish I was the one who could give such news, I would love it if we announced it as soon as possible. We are awaiting a final confirmation of when the first demo will be ready. The announcement will be soon, but when, for many weeks, we are still waiting for the exact date. But I can say it's going to be worth the wait, seriously, I've seen PES 2014 and it is spectacular.
When Konami acquire a new license, which factors are taken into account? Do Konami need to be the top rated? Perhaps being the most popular and most powerful to call?
It's a combination of factors that you just say. It's a long process. Of course we'd like to have all licenses, all clubs, all teams and all players, but in reality this would be unaffordable.
Market development make a decision looking at the size of the market, and also the teams which are much more popular worldwide, not just in that country.
Four years ago we did not have a single license in Latin America, and today we have several - if consumers are supporting the game, the idea is to get more and more. I wish all licenses could make it in one year but this would be impossible.
Last year, many said the Argentine Primera División was to be licensed for PES 2013, was there any truth in this?
I think there was a communication error. The issue is that in some interviews, someone from Konami said that this was 'a possibility' but then this was changed. But in reality, the license was never purchased. A final negotiation has always been an interest, of course, but I think the rumour came from a communication error.
Unfortunately sometimes with interviews and everything, some of us take hundreds of interviews - especially during E3 - and it's very easy to have misunderstandings. If there was a confusion on the part of Konami, I can only apologise for the communication error.
During the FestiGame 2012, held in Chile, it was announced that the people of Chile were to receive a 'surprise', but this eventually led to nothing for PES 2013. Do you have something to add to this?
Yes, absolutely. The truth is that we were very excited because we had a ... [Pause] ... Chile for us is a very important market. As I mentioned, it's the third largest market for Pro Evolution Soccer in Latin America, and we had a deal that was practically closed.
The negotiation was confirmed, signed and everything, but by the time PES 2013 was released, the final contract hadn't been signed. I hope that the surprise can become a reality this year [for PES 2014] and that the announcement can be made sooner this time around.
In a recent interview, Konami stated that they will show PES 2014 at E3 - are there any plans to bring back PES in its early stages of development to Latin America?
Every year, we host something called the 'First Look Event' where we show world press the first demo of the game. Last year, it was in Brazil because of the importance of Brazil and Latin America. An exact location for this year hasn't been confirmed.
The acquisition of the licenses for the Brazilian clubs in PES 2013 was a great success by Konami which has generated a good sales rate in Brazil. But considering that EA Sports seeks to move into the Latin market, has this been discussed? And do Konami have the ability to acquire new South American licenses for PES 2014?
The answer is Yes. We are looking to further strengthen Pro Evolution Soccer 2014.
Definitely, as you say about the Brasileirão, where our competitors did not, our acquisition was very strong. This was a big effort... and we do have a few surprises up our sleeves for Latin America this year.
You mentioned earlier about the meeting in Dubai, where you saw the new engine for the first time, we do not want to miss the opportunity to ask about Shingo "Seabass" Takatsuka - did he attend that meeting? And is he still part of the development team for PES 2014?
Yes and no. As you know, for a year and a half now, Seabass has taken a higher position in the company, a major promotion for him, and in that promotion, he is focusing much more on new markets and new technologies. Today he is much more involved across the digital part of Konami.
His right hand man for many years was Naoya Hatsumi who is now the head of Pro Evolution Soccer. Seabass is still part of it, and is still involved. The development team of Pro Evolution Soccer is made up of 180 people. So a face doesn't always become famous, but really every member of the production team. Seabass remains there and continues to direct part of this, but he is no longer the official head of development for Pro Evolution Soccer.
We greatly appreciate the time you gave us to answer our questions. Would you please give a final word for all American fans who grew up playing Winning Eleven and also to the many who are looking forward to Pro Evolution Soccer 2014.
I have only to thank you all. The truth is that Konami is in Latin America for you and what you've all done has been important for us to get to the point where we are today.
Thank you for supporting us every year. We have made very large investments, have brought new licenses, we have opened opportunities, trips, tournaments and are increasingly supporting the Latino market.
As a fan of Winning Eleven for many years, I feel very proud to be part of this, and as a player of PES, also very happy that a game as awesome as Pro Evolution Soccer is so personalized for Latin America.
You should anticipate some spectacular news for PES 2014.