The last time Pro Evolution Soccer hit shelves before FIFA, in 2003, it was arguably the most popular football game on the market. It was easily the most critically acclaimed, at least, with Pro Evolution Soccer 3 being most football fans' game of choice over EA Sports' clumsy counterpart FIFA 04.
Since then, of course, EA Sports has worked tirelessly to lead FIFA into the footballing limelight. These days, FIFA isn't just one of the hottest properties in sports, but the games industry as a whole. You only need to look at the sales figures of last year's game for evidence of that: FIFA 12 generated over $186m at retail within its first week of release, and $39m via DLC alone over the course of the Christmas period, and this year's game seems well-positioned to shatter those records. The PR machine even manages to build hype over the release of the game's packshot, for goodness sake.
This year, though, Konami is making strides to muscle in on FIFA's turf. PES 2013 releases on September 21, one week before FIFA 13's launch on September 28. And the move may give PES all that it needs to revive interest in Konami's flailing footie franchise.
The attention is still firmly on FIFA, of course. There are thousands of you reading stories about FIFA 13 on VideoGamer.com every day. But launching PES first puts Konami in a curiously advantageous position. Will FIFA fans finally be prepared to give PES a chance after ignoring it for the best part of a decade? I think they could, and it may be one of the very few occasions where the pre-owned market directly benefits the publisher.
This year, players will have the option of treating PES as an asset, rather than an investment, which could prove vital to getting the series back on track. If those tempted to give Konami's game a try can buy PES on launch day knowing that - if they don't like it - they can sell it back to their retailer to put towards FIFA the following week, I'd wager most will. Fans didn't have that option before. The majority plumped for FIFA, leaving PES to limp in weeks behind to pick up the scraps.
So, Konami has gifted itself a one week grace period in which to win old fans back and convince new players to give PES 2013 a try. And that's an invaluable opportunity for Konami. If PES succeeds - if PES 2013 can actually win over diehard FIFA fans and earn its place in the disc tray - it'll be a colossal achievement. But even if it doesn't, Konami could still come out with a win.
Last year, EA claimed that FIFA 12 had been outselling PES 2012 by 25 units to 1. If Konami can reduce that number even slightly - regardless of whether fans pick up PES 2013 with the sole intention of trading it in for FIFA 13 a week later - Konami could still walk away with a victory in the PR war. First week sales are incredibly important for any publisher, not least of which Konami, and if PES 2013 can come out with strong week one figures, it could provide the series with the boost that it needs to start turning things around.
And remember, this was the same tactic that EA used to start putting FIFA back on the map in 2004. FIFA 2005 launched one week before PES 4 - the first time that a FIFA game had ever gone on sale before Pro Evolution Soccer - and, according to VGChartz, sold over 10% more copies than the previous year's version.
And that process of revitalising the PES brand should only continue to grow with next year's game. Konami has already announced plans to heavily invest in a new UK studio built purely to "capture the very essence of the beautiful game" and help "elevate PES to whole new levels". Whether or not it turns out to be a worthy investment we'll find out next year. But the war to win back players starts this September, and bringing forward the series' release date could be the best tactical change in PES's entire 11-year history.