Younger console game players could be forgiven for thinking that there are only two football simulator games worth mentioning. The epic rivalry between Fifa and Pro Evolution Soccer goes back more than two decades, and devotees of both games argue passionately about why their choice is the superior product.

In fact, the history of football video games is almost as long as the history of video games themselves. As we rejoice that live football is resuming play, we take a step back in time to look at the humble origins of the sophisticated and realistic football video games we play today.


  • Football Games Kick Off


Video games started to be commercialised in the 1970s, in the coin-operated arcades that were so popular at the time. The first game that was vaguely recognisable as football was on an early home console from the toy giant Mattel. Released in 1979, the little pixel men of Intellivision Soccer would today be too primitive for all but the most enthusiastic retro gamers.

During the early 1980s, numerous football-themed video games were released, mostly for arcades. With names like Realsports Soccer (which for some reason rejected the concept of goalkeepers), Exciting Soccer and Champion Soccer, most were variations on a similar format. In 1985, Tekhan World Cup was the first bird’s-eye view game to actually feel somewhat like playing football.

The last big football video game of the 1980s was Kick-Off for the Amiga 500. Played at a much faster pace than most of its predecessors, this was a big step up in the eyes of most gamers. The ball moved much more realistically, rather than staying stuck to the feet of the player.

The early 90s were dominated by Kick-Off and Sensible Software’s series of games, which peaked in 1994 with Sensible World Of Soccer. This introduced the novel – and extremely popular – aspect of playing as real clubs, foreshadowing Fifa’s later success.

By this time, EA Sports had already released their first iteration of Fifa, which came out at the end of 1993. The following year, Konami launched their International Superstar Soccer, the precursor to Pro Evolution Soccer as we know it today. Since then, these two games have dominated.


  • Casino Bonuses to Spin the Soccer Reels


While Fifa and PES were slugging it out to become the top console game, another type of virtual football was also becoming popular – football-themed online slot games. Football fans are often partial to a spot of gambling, so it made sense to use the motif of the beautiful game in casino slots too.

There are quite a few different ones to be found at the numerous licensed casino sites. For those who have never played before, most of these sites have special offers for new customers. These casino bonuses often double your deposit, and many are even more generous than that.

The three best slots with a football theme are Champion’s Goal (Elk Studios), Football: Champions Cup (NetEnt), and Football Star (Microgaming). Of the three, Football Star has the lowest volatility, and with 243 ways to win and a great free spins bonus round, users report a decent chance of coming out in credit.

Football: Champions Cup, set to the soundtrack of a cheering crowd, also has a good free spins round. There is a fun addition in the penalty shootout bonus game, as well as plenty of other special features. As with most NetEnt games, the graphics are impressively crisp. Those who use their casino offers to play Champion’s Goal will find a high volatility slot with plenty of excitement, although not quite the level of atmosphere achieved by NetEnt.


  • Game of Two Halves: PES vs Fifa


From the perspective of 2020, it’s easy to see who won the competition between Fifa and PES, at least in terms of global sales. Back when the two games were first released, however, it was far from a foregone conclusion.

Fifa International Soccer was a step up from both Kick-Off and Sensible Soccer, introducing for the first time an isometric viewpoint so players could look around the pitch and stadium in three dimensions. It was by far the most realistic football console game released to date, and it sold half a million copies within a month.

Fifa’s dominance went relatively unchallenged until 1997, when Konami followed up their 1994 version of International Superstar Soccer with an updated game. This was a worthy challenge to Fifa, offering a more fluid and organic playing style that more closely emulated a real game. Subsequent releases, with a rebrand to Pro Evolution Soccer, achieved better reviews than the Fifa games brought out in parallel.

During the early 2000s the developers of both games were spurred on by the success of the other, each studio pushing to make their next game better. It was at this time that two reputations began to develop. PES were widely reckoned to have the superior gameplay, and Fifa were left playing catch-up until the middle of the decade.

Fifa, however, had something that PES lacked. EA Sports had the license to use the names and images of real players, which was a major selling point for them. While PES players had Hanry and Naldorinho, in Fifa it was Henry and Ronaldinho. When Fifa began to catch up technically, the writing was on the wall for PES.

The tide turned in Fifa’s favour with the recruitment of a new lead designer in 2005. Gary Paterson was a big fan of PES, and used many of the lessons learned from playing the rival game. Under his direction, Fifa developed a much more sophisticated product. By the time Fifa 08 came out, at the end of 2007, PES had started to be left far behind. While Fifa improved with each subsequent iteration, PES foundered and ultimately couldn’t keep up.

By 2014, the gulf in sales was insurmountable. Fifa 15 sold 18 million copies, PES 2015 just 1.7 million. Fifa had introduced Ultimate Team a few years before, and the draw of creating your own fantasy squad proved irresistible to players. Later innovations that kept Fifa ahead include the inclusion of women’s international stars in Fifa 16.

PES have not given in without a fight, however. To the surprise of many observers, Konami have gone down the licensing route as well. PES now has exclusive rights to leagues from Russia and Brazil, the Camp Nou stadium, and their biggest coup – Juventus.

How successful this tactic is remains to be seen. The gap in sales is still a chasm; Fifa 19 shifted over 12 million copies, while PES 2019 sold just over half a million. The numbers for this year have not yet been collated, but early reviews for PES were positive on the whole, and it was in third place on the UK games chart the week it came out. It may still be too early to blow the whistle on this competition.