"We want to shock fans every year!": Konami's football boss on how his move to Japan will transform PES 2019

Much of Pro Evolution Soccer’s resurgence in recent years can be attributed to Adam Bhatti. Since being appointed the series’ European Community Leader in March 2013 he’s made numerous key development calls which have seen the series prosper from a critical standpoint – marking quite the turnaround from its late-‘00s nadir. On a personal level, those series successes have quickly propelled him towards the upper echelons of Konami

After two years as Global Brand Manager based at the company’s Windsor office, Bhatti is now taking up an even more hands-on role with the franchise by moving to PES’s Tokyo studio. I caught up with him less than a week before the big switch, to discuss how it’ll affect PES 2019 and beyond…

GR+: Congratulations on the move to Japan. How will this change your role on a day-to-day basis?
AB: Thanks! Overall the purpose of the move is to be more integrated into the team in Japan, overseeing everything I was before, but having a more active role in the decision-making process. I am keen to bring the global teams together, which is going to be far more efficient if I'm based there. It's a two-year project, and something I'm keen to make the most of.

When do you start?
Straight away. My first day in Tokyo is December 18th, so it will be a seamless transition! 

What tangible effects do you feel the move will have on the game itself from PES 2019 onwards?
It's difficult to say at this stage – however, the reason I’m going is because it marks a very important stage for the PES series. There will be significant changes made to the way we produce the game, and what we offer as a package. It's the biggest change to the product in years, something that we began integrating with PES 2018. As mentioned earlier this year, we want to shock football fans each year for the next few years, with certain changes that simply wouldn't be expected from a yearly title.

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You’re obviously not going to reveal new features when PES 2018 has only just come out, but do you have one or two development priorities in mind?
Yes, a lot! We want to create a game that always puts the fans first, while at the same time giving non-PES players a way into the series. To do this we need some big changes, not only in how the game plays. I'm extremely proud of how the game is playing, I believe it's the best football playing experience we've ever created. But we need to offer the same high standard in all other areas, we want to be industry leading across the board. It's an easy thing to say, but we're always very aware of what it will take to get there. There will be sacrifices we need to make for the greater good, but all of which will make sense once the game is announced. It's an extremely exciting time.

How do you assess PES 2018, and the football market as a whole, three months after release?
It's been a huge success overall, where we've seen growth in a number of markets. Countries like France and Spain in Europe have seen fantastic growth, as has the Steam version which for the first time is at the level it needed to be - on par, if not better than, PS4. The transition from last-gen to current-gen has been very positive this year, with fans and new users picking up PES on the new platforms. In Latin America and Asia PES remains the dominant football game, with continued success following on from a great few years in those markets.

The real success however has been the amount of daily active users, which is substantially higher than last year. We added more modes such as Random Select mode and an integrated PES League mode, as well as the hugely popular 3v3 mode - all of which have contributed to more users playing PES consistently and having a reason to log back in each day. 

There's been some realisation on some of the things we could do better also, based on fan feedback. The updates didn't come fast enough for many, and [fans felt we didn’t] really commit heavily into Master League. We do not want fans to think we have forgotten about those single-player experiences, and are aware there needs to be a significant change in how we approach them. While myClub remains the most played mode, and one that also gets a lot of feedback, our aim to make sure we support all our modes with same time and dedication.

Tell us a little bit about your replacement…
Our new EU Brand Manager is Lennart Bobzien, and I'm really happy for him. He’s been part of the PES team just before PES 2015, and has worked on my team very closely over those three years. More recently he's been focused on driving the PES League business, something that has grown significantly alongside the eSports scene. He'll now transition more to the brand side, looking after all activities and opportunities across Europe, helping me stay connected to local markets as Andre Bronzoni over in the US/LatAm region has done. As I'll be taking most of responsibilities over to Japan, publicly the fans will still see a lot of me (sorry!) but you will see Lenni be more active both behind the scenes and publicly.

What’s your game of the year outside of the football genre?
I got my first video game job over at Ubisoft, with the first title I worked on being Assassins Creed 2. Ever since, the series has always had a special place in my heart. What the team have created with Assassins Creed Origins has been incredible. They've delivered a game that has all those iconic AC moments, and delivered a wonderful open world I can't stop enjoying. I've not played anywhere near as much I wanted so far, but enough to know it's my favourite game this year.

What single achievement are you most proud of from your time at the European helm?
What I was brought in to do was change the perception of the series. After a difficult time on the PS3/X360 era, we faced a lot of negativity after PES 2014. Bringing PES 2015 was one of the toughest moments we've faced, but we knew we had a great product. We were brave during that time, shifting the release date to later in the year and giving the dev team time to create the best response to the perceived negativity that had followed us for a year. Almost everyone I speak to these days always tell me PES has the best experience on the pitch, which I believe is the hardest part. With that now firmly in place, we can focus on creating an incredible overall product for fans of football around the world. Telling me we'd be in this position back in 2014, I would have been very sceptical, which shows what a defining moment that was. Looking back, that has been the most satisfying experience, managing to turn this perception that PES wasn't a good game around, and giving us the platform to build something new and exciting.

PES 2018 is out now. Still pondering whether it's worth a spot on your Christmas list? Then have a gander at the GR+ review.

Ben Wilson

I'm GamesRadar's sports editor, and obsessed with NFL, WWE, MLB, AEW, and occasionally things that don't have a three-letter acronym – such as Chvrches, Bill Bryson, and Streets Of Rage 4. (All the Streets Of Rage games, actually.) Even after three decades I still have a soft spot for Euro Boss on the Amstrad CPC 464+.