A name perhaps unfamiliar to newer football fans, Hans De Noteboom appeared in the Dutch national team between 2007 and 2009. He has never played club football, and is featured in no official Dutch national team photos including the above, later becoming a referee.
Surprising huh? Well not really, Hans De Noteboom is not real. He only exists because of licensing issues existing with the Dutch national football team in FIFA 08 & FIFA 09. When the licensing issues were resolved for FIFA 10, Noteboom was officially retired leading to this parody video by the creators of the game.
He later returned in FIFA 11 as a referee, and has been ever present in the Eredivisie since.
Hans De Noteboom (or HdN to his friends) is hardly unique within the FIFA video games series as an example of a fake player populating a unlicensed or even licensed team. For example, in FIFA 17 despite holding the licences to the Brazilian league teams, issues still exist surrounding player licensing and hence the teams are populated by players with generic names.
Of course, there is also the case of Andrei Murgu, which was Adrian Mutu’s fake name in FIFA 10 due to drug related charges against him. There is also the Serie B, the Italian Second division, where the teams badges and kits are replaced with unlicensed replica versions.
There are similar stories in other franchises such as Jens Mustermann/Oliver Kahn in the Football Manager series, and every player in Pro Evolution Soccer. All these problems revolve around rights and licensing issues. This is also the reason we cannot have the CONCAF champions league on FIFA, or the J-League in Football Manager, or real team names in PES.
It is a shame really, as these issues get in the way of what is really important in these games – gameplay and depth. I am guilty myself of turning my nose up at PES for not wanting to play as North London Reds, or not managing a South American team in FIFA. It is hard to see a return to a time when a football game could be popular without licences such as the PES games of a certain vintage, where gameplay was a significant improvement on the competition. As the two games are now much closer gameplay-wise, this difference is a lot less pronounced and so people turn to aspects such as licences to choose their football game for the year. Effectively, the selling point of the game has become the gloss.
Perhaps one way to alleviate this over reliance on licenses as a selling point is to offer greater depth. I have never felt the need to rename and badge German teams in Football Manager for example due to the depth, but this approach seems unaligned to the style of FIFA or PES, which are ultimately more casual than Football Manage. Maybe a possible approach is via patches offered by the community as per the PC community, we are seeing mod support on console now, but for sports games this could be a long long way from reality.
A further suggestion would be greater innovation, we have seen a great ‘football’ game in Rocket League through the creative application of football to sentient cars, a game I have personally had a lot more fun on than this year’s FIFA. As far as conventional football simulators go however, the developers are bound by realism, making this sort of creative approach harder and far riskier, albeit still possible as there is plenty of potential in pre-existing game modes such as “Become a Legend” or even FIFA’s now tired career mode.
I have been hoping for a greater honing of these three aspects over the last few offerings of football games: more depth, more customization and innovation on the part of the developer. Short of “Story Mode” from the last FIFA the two series seem reluctant to offer any of the above, seemingly keen to just scoop up the cash from micro-transaction driven game modes such as ultimate team whilst dominating their target markets.
So I guess us console players are stuck with our occasional Hans De Notebooms and Ronarids so that PES and FIFA can push exclusivity of their acquired league licenses as an incentive for you to favour their disappointing yearly offer slightly more than the oppositions samey offering – the video game equivalent to grinding a 1-0 away victory at the Hawthorns. These fake players obviously have a charm in themselves but are perhaps a symptom of a larger issue in sports video games, a market dominated by licenses, and one that is afraid to take risks.