Football Manager 2012: 'Our competition is ourselves'
15th Aug 2011 | 15:35
Outsiders don't really get Football Manager. To them it's nothing but a load of spreadsheets given a lick of colour and a slide bar here and there.
For football fans bitten by the bug, though, Football Manager is a way of life. It has to be, because Sports Interactive has come up with a management sim formula that's as addictive as it is in-depth.
Following the announcement of Football Manager 2012 earlier today, the cycle begins again with footie fans preparing to put their jobs, education, relationships and general hygiene in jeopardy as they submerge themselves in some brand new features.
We spoke to Sports Interactive director Miles Jacobson about what the new Football Manager season has in store, where we'll see Football Manager in the future and why he won't let us live a wholesome life free of addiction.
We've been told to expect evolution with a bit of revolution this year and we've been given an initial set of features. Tell us which bits you consider to be revolutionary for Football Manager and why.
There are a few different bits of revolution. The main revolution is 'Manage Anywhere, Anytime' which is, if someone's been playing a game for five seasons and maybe they're a little bit bored of the transfer market in England or what's going on in the English league, they can add the Spanish league or the Italian league or the Chilean league or whichever they want to add and try and get a job in another country in the next season.
I think this has been one of the most requested features we've ever had particularly as people will often start a game the day they get Football Manager and they'll start it as a game to just muck about with and then really get into it and go, "But I don't want to lose my whole game, it's in 2020."
So it gives those guys a chance to add leagues. It also gives you a chance to turn off leagues so if you've started a game with a dozen leagues and you're maybe finding that the game runs a little bit slowly, you can just turn the leagues off and it'll speed up.
So that's certainly revolutionary on the one side. On the other side we've got the Adaptive Layout System, which is a tech innovation that means that if you are in a higher resolution you get more information on the screen.
If we'd done without doing it in a tech way then we would have had to do it in multiple different skins, but the way that we have done it, it means that if you're playing in a window you just stretch the window to the size you want it to be and it will just work out exactly how much information it can fit on there.
Then another revolution for people who haven't played the game before is the new Tutorial Mode because it's actually a standalone mode to teach you how to play the game. A lot of people, when it comes to Football Manager, find the game a little bit overwhelming because there's so much information and we really want to be able to appeal to every football fan out there. So by actually teaching them how to play the game and show them that it isn't overwhelming, that's a pretty good thing to be in there.
Plus the tone system as well. While it's an evolution of another system, I can't think of another game that allows you to say things in six different tones. The possibilities, while not endless, are to a multiple of six compared to what they were before. You can use them in team talks, in the conversations that you have with players and a number of other ways that we might not have announced yet.
So there's a lot in there from a revolution side but the evolution is very important as well. We've got 800 changes in there, not including the changes we've made to rule groups. That's pretty much double what we had last year, which was already double what we had the year before. So I think it shows something about our production practices at the studio and new production practices that we put in after FM 2009 have been working quite well as well.
The whole game feels so much nicer. I've been very fortunate to have been playing it for a few months and we've still got a few things to iron out, which is why we're not releasing it tomorrow but we're getting there.
One other thing that makes a really big difference that we've announced today - and I don't think there are any screenshots of this, which is really frustrating - is the ability to lock certain areas of the contract negotiations when you aren't prepared to budge.
With that, let's say you're offering the player 4K a week and the player wants 6K a week but you can't pay him 6K. You can actually lock the 4K offer and his agent will go and look for other ways to get the money.
As you're negotiating the deal, he'll come back with a load of clauses or might not, he might just accept it anyway. Things like that really do add an extra element to the game, it sounds like a small thing but it does add a lot to when you're playing the game and that's where the evolution side comes in. I think a lot of the evolutionary features, including the match engine improvements and the extra camera angles. It is evolution but it looks quite a bit better than FM 11.
I guarantee by the time the game comes out you will be sick of reading about Football Manager 2012 because there are going to be a lot of announcements.
What's the far future for match engine. I can remember only a few years ago when dots on a screen were all we had, so it's already come a long way. Is the vision to reach to something like FIFA levels of presentation or does that defeat the object entirely?
There are a few reasons why I don't think that would work for us. For a start, with FIFA, they've got a database with about 15,000 players or something like that that they model. We've got 500,000 players and staff so we wouldn't be looking to model all of those.
Second when you're playing an action game it's quite a bit different to a management game. With a management game you need to be able to see a lot more of the pitch because you need to be able to see what your right back's doing while your right winger's pegging it up the wing. That's not really necessary in an action game.
So we're not striving for FIFA's look, we're actually striving to look like a real game of football and trying to have the lighting of a real game of football but with a little bit of leeway to be able to see the ball and for players' skin colours not to change too much when they go into shadows.
But obviously we look at FIFA and we look at Pro Evo and what the guys and girls on those teams do is nothing short of fantastic but they're very different experiences to what we're trying to do.
Gameplay will always be the most important for us, we're very very proud of the strides that our match viewer has made for the 3D view and you can see that this year. We will definitely look to improve that over the long term as we do every area of the game but we're not striving to try and beat FIFA because I think each game's different.
I've got huge respect for Dave Rutter and his team over there who work on those titles and we enjoy playing them a lot but I'm sure there are areas of our match engine that they would love to be able to live up to as well.
On the flip-side, do you keep an eye on what they're doing with their Manager modes and Master League modes thinking that one day they might come up with something that rivals Football Manager?
No I think those modes will always be a lot more shallow than what we're trying to do. I see those as career modes for people inside those games and they're good fun. I did a Master League on Pro last year and did the Manager Mode in FIFA but they're not meant to be realistic in any way really.
Obviously EA has FIFA Manager as well, which is a good, fun... Well, it's a fun management game. Very different to us, you can set hot dog prices and things like that but we're in a slightly different market as well.
So there's some differentiation there I think there's room for all of us to play nicely.
Where do you feel your competition comes from?
Ourselves. We've been fighting with ourselves for a while now I think. As a studio we are the least complacent team you will ever see. Last year management-wise, our main competitor and our previous brand decided not to come out on PC and Mac, we don't believe they've got anything this year although I don't know whether they do or not.
In most people's minds it would have been very easy for us to be quite complacent this year and not have as many new features but we've just announced today that we've got 800 not including rule groups, which is more than double what we had last year. Hopefully people can see from the videos and the screenshots.
So we compete with ourselves and our previous game and wanting to keep improving it. We compete, although in a very friendly way, with the other games we're making in the studio.
We've got Football Manager Handheld, we want that to be the best handheld game out there, we want Football Manager to be the best football PC game out there and we wanted Football Manager Live to be the best online football management game out there. I think that we achieved that but the general public disagreed with the amount of people online.
We're working with something else in the online area as well but we just want to be the best in what we do, with everything that we do and that's what keeps us going. If other people come along and make a better game than us in the genre then fine. We'll either go and work for them or we'll go and work in Burger King but until that happens we'll just keep trying to raise the bar each year because we want to be playing the best game that's ever been made.
I was going to ask a bit about Football Manager Live and where you think it went wrong. From the way you talk about it, it sounds like you think it was a market issue rather than a way you implemented the game...
No it was our fault, 100 percent our fault with Football Manager Live. We made a few design decisions very early on in the project that the leads on the project - myself included - agreed. Those design decisions basically made it very very very difficult for the game to work out.
In MMOs people like to be in one game world. We designed a game where the maximum about of people in a game world was a thousand, we designed a game where when people were dropping out people didn't want to come in, they wanted to start new game worlds, which meant that gameworlds ended up being empty.
There's no one to blame apart from ourselves, we took the game in too hardcore a direction. It was originally envisaged as being a much more mainstream game than it ended up being and unfortunately the costs of running an MMO are absolutely massive. The costs have come down a bit now that you can do so much stuff on the cloud but when we were launching you couldn't do that. So, all the equipment we had to buy and it was a very expensive experiment that didn't work out.
But there were some huge positives as well. The technology we got from it, the expertise we got from it, the people who were working on it that are all now working on other projects in the studio are all top notch and those have given us possibilities for the future across all our titles. So it certainly wasn't wasted time but it's something that we got wrong and the only people to blame are ourselves.
Have you had any thoughts about how Football Manager could be played in browsers on social networking platforms like Facebook and Google+?
There's too much data at the moment for those kind of systems to work. It would have to be a really cut down version of the game with even less stuff in there than the iPhone game.
It's something that in the longer time might well happen but we're still only a small studio, there's still only 70 of us at SI full time and we have learnt the hard way to walk before you can run and we've got a bunch of other things that we're looking to do before we get to that stage.
Football Manager obviously does well on the iPhone, what are your thoughts on the future of the mobile platform and how long will it be before we see Football Manager on mobile competing with the full-fat version?
I don't think we will.
No I don't think... How can I put this? I think it's best to design games for the platform that they're meant to be played on and I'm not sure whether mobile phones and the amount of time that you spend on the mobile phones are tantamount to the Football Manager experience.
We're on the iPhone obviously, we're on the Apple platform and we tend to be there for a very very long time and we'll continue to innovate with that title as well but we see it as a separate title. We see it as a good enough title to stand up in its own right. We don't need Football Manager on there if we've got Football Manager Handheld on there.
So when everyone's talking about the competition between mobile and consoles and PC you're unconvinced are you?
I just think you need to tailor the game to the platform you're on and as long as you're doing that it doesn't really matter what the platform is. If you can make a great game on a particular platform, brilliant. If you can get paid for doing it evem better.
But platforms aren't something I'm an expert on really because every time we've tried to do something on console it's failed. But phone and tablet-wise I think everything that everyone's been talking about - I've been talking about it and I think Epic's been talking about it as well - the rate of technology changes are absolutely massive but that doesn't necessarily mean that a full-blown game is suited to that platform.
We just have to wait and see what happens and what comes around the corner.
I was going to ask you about consoles as well but it sounds like you've ruled that one out.
Yeah we have. We were on console for three years and we actually did a huge study last year into why our console game didn't work, even though it hadn't been out for a couple of years and the answer was very simple really. It's that people can play Football Manager when they're sitting there with their laptops on their laps but taking over the living room TV in six or eight sessions isn't something that goes down well with the family. That's something that our game on the platform required you to do, so no it's not something that we're looking at again.
Do you have any thoughts on DRM. Do you think it's the right approach to how we fight piracy on PC?
I don't think there is a right approach to how you handle piracy. I don't think there ever will be a right approach to how you handle piracy but then I don't think piracy is right either.
So it's kind of a lesser of two evils...
It depends which system you're using really. Some DRM is evil, some isn't. I don't think that Steam is evil DRM, I think it's a really good helpful platform that gives a lot of benefits to the customer but there still isn't really a DRM solution that works, there isn't one that stops people copying games.
It's a difficult position for any developer to be. Basically I would like nothing more than to not have to put any DRM onto my titles ever and to allow people to freely make copies and back-ups of discs to their heart's content.
Unfortunately there are dishonest people in the world who would take advantage, who would sell copied versions of the game, who would give those copies of the game away to their mates who haven't bought it and I do believe that people who make games should be paid for work that they're doing.
In a perfect world there'd be no DRM. We don't live in a perfect world.
Football Manager was successful on the PSP, have you had a chance to have a look at the Vita yet and see if you want to put a version on there as well?
I actually haven't, which might sound bit weird because we have been so successful on the PSP but no we haven't really had a look at it. We've still got a PSP game coming out this year and we've got the iPhone game coming out but we've never been ones to be early adopters.
I think we've probably got some dev kit somewhere. Our tech team has probably got the dev kit but as an actual platform for the game I haven't looked at it at all.