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Dear EA, here’s how not to rip your loyal fans off

Konami today announced that it had secured a four-year licensing contract to the UEFA Champions League, and with it came a game trailer to celebrate the signing, indicating that the Champions League would be included in Konami’s upcoming Pro Evolution Soccer 2009.

For those who don’t know, the UEFA Champions League is Europe’s premier club football competition. Top clubs from around the continent compete in this annual tournament to be crowned European club champion. EA Sports had the license to the Champions League from the 2004-2005 season, up until last year, and Eidos and Take-Two had it before them.

The rumours of Konami securing the license had been doing the rounds for a couple of months and all that while there was a fear in the back of my mind that Konami would do the unthinkable – release Champions League as a separate game, just like EA Sports did. Today’s announcement, stating that the Champions League would be integrated into Pro Evolution Soccer 2009, has allayed those fears, but it makes one think – why didn’t EA do that when they had the license? Why didn’t they put the Champions League in their annual flagship FIFA titles, rather than milking it the way they did and forcing people to buy something that, frankly, didn’t offer anything new at all?

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Most people would agree that the standalone Champions League games that EA Sports put out weren’t that different from the FIFA titles that preceded them by just a few months. So why release the same game a few months later with a fresh lick of paint and a new name? And although many of us may scoff and see right through this blatant milkage, football is the world’s most popular sport and football games sell by the ton, so the Champions League games are bound to have sold reasonably well.

Take-Two and Eidos, too, had standalone Champions League games, but they didn’t have an existing, successful football title to integrate the tournament into like EA Sports do with the FIFA franchise. Was it that FIFA didn’t want a UEFA tournament in their game, or did UEFA not want its tournament in a FIFA game? Neither of those scenarios seems likely. Must be just a cruel marketing gimmick then.

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Konami could have done the very thing that EA Sports did, and in fact, they could have made a better case for having the Champions League as a separate game. Konami doesn’t have the big club and league licenses like EA does. The English Premier League and German Bundesliga are not licensed in PES games, but a fully-licensed Champions League would have clubs from these leagues in licensed form. For example: While you would have Arsenal fully licensed in the game’s Champions League mode, elsewhere in the game, it would assume the fictitious ‘North London’ moniker without the real team uniforms. Now, Konami could well have avoided this confusion by deciding to make the Champions League into a separate game.

But they didn’t; and although fan sentiment may not have been a determining factor in that decision, it feels good to know that Konami chose to enrich their brand rather than divide their fans. May be a lesson or two here for EA Sports.

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