Forget FIFA – Sports Interactive's Miles Jacobson directs one of the most consistently excellent football videogame franchises: Football Manager. He tells MCV how his team keeps the series fresh every year...
How has Football Manager changed over the years?
The ethos behind the franchise hasn't changed but we've realised as we've got a bit older that not everyone has time to play the ‘full' experience of the PC and Mac version, which is why the handheld versions were born.And some people want more of the fantasy, rather than the realism, which is where Football Manager Live, and then Football Manager Online [a free-to-play title in development for Korea] came in. It's a shame that we made mistakes with FML – hopefully we won't do the same with FMO.
How well is Football Manager 12 shaping up?
People have had the demo for a few days now and the reaction has been nothing short of stunning. I'm used to getting hate mail and death threats at this time of year from people, but the praise so far seems to be universal amongst the different Football Manager communities.
When you look at the list of new features on a bit of paper, it looks like this year is evolution rather than revolution. When you play the game everything just fits together really well, and there are new features for everyone –the tutorial mode and How To system for newcomers; the improved interaction, tone system and team meetings for regular fans; and the contract locks and career mode for more experienced users.
EA told MCV recently it's aiming for your game with FIFA Manager. Are you concerned?
We'll continue to concentrate on trying to raise the bar in the genre each year, and make the best games we possibly can do, rather than worry about our opposition. If people prefer FIFA Manager, then I'll have to go and get a proper job. But we've been global market leaders in our field for 17 out of the 19 years that we've been making games, and we intend to stay there for many years to come.
Football Manager represents a massive pillar in Sega's financial year. Does that put much pressure on Sports Interactive?
Sonic is quite prickly when he's angry, but thankfully doesn't shout at us too much.
Seriously though, we're a very close team at SI. Like any family, we have fights, but all of the team is responsible for hitting deadlines. Our production practises lead to maneuverable scope and we are our harshest critics, therefore it's essential for us that the quality is there. Quality leads to popularity, as does keeping close to the communities, whether that's Facebook page comments, forums or our various Twitter accounts – you have to listen to your customers when you work on an annual franchise to ensure you're steering the game in the direction that the majority want, not just the one who shouts the loudest.
I'm sure Sega would be very upset if we missed a release date, or if a game wasn't our usual quality, but as a rule, they let us get on with it and we do our best to deliver.
Where do you see the franchise going in five years? How will the changes in the market affect future Football Manager titles?
We've got a five-year plan for the formats and styles of games that we want to do, but the important thing in any market is that quality rises to the top. So despite all the changes over the last couple of decades, we've just concentrated on quality rather than letting the market dictate what we do. We experiment a lot, such as our Xbox 360 release, our PSP release, our iOS release, a brand change, Football Manager Live and Football Manager Online. Some of them work, some of them don't. But it's not the market that dictates whether the game is successful – it's the game that dictates whether the market is successful.
HAND OF GOD: THE PORTABLE FUTURE OF FOOTBALL MANAGER
Football Manager Handheld is becoming more successful by the year. Why do you think people are attracted to the portable version?
Because it's the perfect game to play when you're on the bus, on the train, or even on the loo. The chance to manage your own football club to alleviate the boredom of travel – what could be better? FMH is there as a more bite-sized experience, and some people prefer that simpler and quicker way to play. We do see some crossover of people who play both, but the majority choose their ‘flavour' of game, whether that be the PC/Mac release or its baby brother.
Do you plan to expand on this with Vita or 3DS versions?
As always at SI, we keep our future plans wrapped up in cotton wool in an unbreakable safe. But our handheld titles are very important to the future of the studio, and the first hint towards that will be shown with a new game mode in our forthcoming iOS app, which should hopefully be out before Christmas.
How successful has Football Manager been in the iOS market?
Both previous versions have sold more than twice what was expected, which proves apps can sell good numbers at a premium price (it costs 6.99), if the quality is there. As soon as I saw the first prototype for the iOS version I knew it was going to do well, which considering it was started as an experiment rather than a commercial release was very exciting. And it's bringing lots more people into the series – my eight-year-old nephew can't get into the PC game yet, but he's loving the iPad version, learning how to play before his expected transfer to the PC game in a couple of years.
Do you have any other platforms in mind? EA proved with The Sims Social that established gaming brands can work well on Facebook. Would Football Manager adapt well to social networks?
We've got a couple of designs for social networking game possibilities around the studio, but we've also been watching other football-based social networking games very closely. We're not that interested in being first at doing things at SI, but just have to be the best when we do enter a market.Unfortunately, looking at the stats of how our competitors in the genre are doing, it's not a market that appeals currently. FIFA Superstars is doing pretty well, but the other titles are nowhere near the numbers that we'd expect.