22 years ago, Miles Jacobson entered Sports Interactive and landed his dream job working on Championship Manager.
In the wake of his Person of the Year prize at the 2016 MCV Awards, he discusses his future in video games and looks back on a rollercoaster year.
What does it mean for you to win the Person of the Year award?
It is incredibly humbling to be honoured by the industry in this way – there are so many amazing people in games, so to be recognised by the award is very special.
How would you evaluate 2015?
A rollercoaster! Some real highs, with great sales and receptions for Football Manager 2015, 2016 and Football Manager Mobile. The launch of Football Manager Touch on iOS and Android proves that the mobile market can bear double-digit pricing. But then the disappointment of the Football Manager Online launch in Korea in the latter part of last year hasn't been great. This will be fixed by the launch of the game in China with lots of changes made.
"Some devs think working on iterative titles is both easy and boring, but to keep improving year after year is hard and exciting."
Miles Jacobson, Sports Interactive
You've often said you view Sports Interactive as a sports company. Does that mean you feel a bit distant from video games?
I love both the games industry and the football industry – and I am lucky to have been welcomed by both. There are some developers out there who look down on our work a bit because, well, it's sport and they don't like sport. And we make sequels, and they don't like sequels. And we care more about gameplay than graphics – although that's certainly less of an issue nowadays with the indie scene. I think anyone with a bit of mainstream success, even if in a niche like ours, is going to get this in any entertainment industry – some devs think working on iterative titles is both easy and boring, but to keep improving year after year is hard and exciting. But here I am, trying to justify something that I don't actually feel the need to justify. We make games for ourselves – and it just so happens that a couple of million people each year want to buy and play them, too. Which means we don't have to get proper jobs. Which is awesome!
You've been an active supporter of War Child and you mentioned a special project you are putting together for them. Could you tell us more?
For the last 20 years, War Child has been releasing records under the ‘Help' banner – typically compilation albums from the hottest bands in the world. This year, it's games' turn. We have some of the hottest studios in the world, from 343 to Team 17, from Torn Banner to Hardlight, Creative Assembly to Curve, taking six days out of their ridiculously busy schedules to make a game for War Child, which we're then going to release as a compilation. Originally it was just going to be for PC, but with Amazon now on board we're looking at an Android version, too. It'll be out in July as a digital product, although there are retail possibilities, with both merchandise and possibly digital cards. Sega is publishing, and giving 100 per cent of revenues to War Child. The aim is to not only raise significant funds for the charity, but use the games to raise awareness of their work, too.
What do you think it is that makes the games industry such a charitable one?
With our work, we entertain and - some of us - educate, but our work helps people escape their normal lives and make them a little bit better. So the natural carry-on from that is that we'd be interested in making the world a little bit better as well.
Looking back over your career, what would you say have been your defining moments?
Does breaking the record for the most money taken in a lunchtime hour at Quick Burger count? Games-wise, I suppose it's the risks that have worked. Moving from Eidos to Sega with a new brand, yet keeping the audience and the dev team together is probably the best known. The thing I'm proudest of though is keeping the team together – when we became part of Sega 10 years ago, there were 35 of us at the studio, and 30 of us still work together. That's been a large part of our success. Of course, not everything has worked. But the successes have outweighed the failures. But you asked about a career defining moment? I don't think I've had one yet. Hopefully that is still to come, I've got a few years left in me yet.
You're right, this isn't a lifetime achievement award: what left is there for you to achieve?
There's a whole world of football fans out there who haven't played our games. A massive, global, untapped market. Whether it's Football Manager, Mobile, Touch or Online, there are a lot of experiences people haven't yet had, so we have to look more global as a studio. We've had some success with a documentary that has been shown on TV in 50 countries now – so there are more possibilities with broadcast media. And hopefully some more books. And some new game ideas. We've only just begun.