MCV Awards nominee Sports Interactive has just released its fastest selling Football Manager yet.
We ask studio boss Miles Jacobson how the series is bucking the trend at retail…
So how has your new Football Manager performed?
In a year where the market is down pretty much everywhere, for some reason we are significantly up year-on-year, double digit up in fact. The UK has stayed around the same but a lot of countries, like Brazil, have performed well this year. That's partly because Steam has started taking local currency in Brazil, and off the back of that we are going to do a Portuguese/Brazilian translation for FM14. We did a Turkish version of FM13, and we've sold three times as many units in that country than we normally do.
Why do you think you've bucked the trend?
Classic Mode has gone down very well. This is a new game mode that we have introduced this year, which is a quicker way of playing the game. That means people that aren't as time rich anymore can come back to the series again. We've also not really been cracked this year, which has definitely helped us in some of the smaller territories. And we've run what we think has been a particularly successful marketing campaign. The way that things work now is that the creative side of the marketing is actually done by us here at Sports Interactive, and then Sega puts the plan together.
Football Manager Handheld has also seen double-digit growth with over half a million units sold on iOS. Even the PSP game's performed, that went back to No.1 in the UK PSP chart last week, which is probably not that hard to do, because there's not that many new releases, but it still performed better than we were expecting.
You told MCV last year you wanted to deter piracy for a couple of weeks, but it appears you've managed a couple of months.
It's awesome. Massive thanks has to go to the people who work at Sega's Hardlight studio, who actually came up with the system that we have used this year. There is a cracked version out there, but it crashes regularly.
You also told us you'd look to hire more people if sales were high.
Yes, we will be looking to increase the team. We are lucky to be working with Sega. Sega has been clear to us that as revenues go up we are able to expand as we need to.
And for fans that means more modes and features?
We are in the midst of designing 14 at the moment. We've just had five weeks of feature meetings this year, and went over more than 1,600 new features. I need to spend some time deciding which new feature goes into which games. One of the important things we want to do this year is we need to spend a lot more time polishing the game. I think anyone who works on annually iterative games has problems scheduling that side of things. Because whilst FM13 was our highest reviewed game for some time – I think Metactitic is at 87 – it's still not where we want to be, which is at 90.
How are you managing the digital to retail transition?
Our target for the year was to grow the digital sales without growing the digital market share. We've had various retail initiatives that we have used around the world to ensure our box sales are just as a high. In the UK and Spain, we are slightly down year-on-year in retail sales, but in pretty much every other territory we are up in retail as well as up in digital. We had a global pre-order campaign this year where users could access a pre-order Beta copy of the game a few weeks before launch. That saw a record number of pre-orders for us, and this is something we will look to do again this year.
Could you start your pre-order campaign a little earlier this time?
I refuse to announce things that we're doing until it's working in the game. Too many times in this industry we see people announcing features that then don't turn up in the game. So we probably won't be announcing until August or September time, and we won't be starting pre-orders until we have announced what's coming in the game. Yes, we will start it a little bit earlier, but we certainly won't be starting a pre-order campaign around now. FM13 is still No.1 in the PC chart.
How vital has Steam been for you?
Steam is our major digital retailer, but we do pretty well with other digital retailers, too. A lot of those people have been clever by going directly to our fan sites and doing deals. I don't understand why more retailers haven't done it in the past.
From a development side of things, Steam has become our most important partner. They really are phenomenal to work for in a ‘nothing is too much trouble' kind of way. And it's refreshing working with a partner that has a similar outlook to how we like to work.