Stephen Davidson, Football Manager researcher at Sports Interactive, tells us about data-fying the real world and why working on Football Manager is like building a cathedral.
How would you describe your typical day at work?
The research part of my job involves working on the database of information we use to simulate the world in which the Football Manager games take place. The database is a huge vault covering everything from personal attributes, preferences, histories and contract information for over 800,000 people involved in football around the world, plus tax rules for the vast majority of nations on Earth, weather trends, football clubs themselves, kits, stadiums, currencies and exchange rate information, national teams and transfer behaviours, cities, referees, competitive derbies and a whole host of other data.
An important part of working with such a big team globally is communicating effectively and knowing where to send issues to get the answers we need. After an initial state-of-play period I might work on editing new strings for the game, creating design docs for new features or tools, logging, fixing or testing bugs or features, communicating with our researchers all over the world or focusing on specific projects with various departments in the studio.
One day I might be emailing the Gibraltarian FA about transfer rules and the next working with 3D artists to accurately model weather, dressing rooms or different building materials used in stadiums.
My job is largely about trying to data-fy the real world in ways that will be useful to the developers so I also keep an eye on real-world news and events across football and beyond. If Real Madrid sack their manager and coaching staff we need to make sure that’s updated ASAP just as we need to model ever-shifting international relations, countries changing flags, names or employment rules and the whole world of football and related business life going on around us 24/7. When you see breaking news on your mobile or TV chances are we’re already considering if this impacts the simulated world of Football Manager and updating things accordingly. Brexit has been a challenging and ever-changing example of real world events seriously impacting our games, we’re still trying to get our heads around it!
What qualifications and/or experience do you need for this job?
There’s definitely not one obvious way into the work we do. A keen interest in football and the Football Manager games is pretty important but we boast graduates from a wide variety of disciplines and institutions. An analytical mindset, attention to detail and demonstrated evidence of thinking about football in terms of objective and subjective data are just as important. I’d compare working on the Football Manager games to building a cathedral. The whole structure is far too vast for any one person to have total ownership so it’s useful to be able to focus on your specific area while keeping general track of what’s going on around you.
If you were interviewing someone for your team, what would you look for?
Passion for our games is always a good place to start. We’re also always interested in thoughtful, intelligent people who are interested in working hard to create the very best games they can. Beyond that we’re really open to all walks of life, backgrounds and approaches. Candidates I’ve been particularly impressed by have really applied their minds to tasks, presented interesting solutions to problems, can communicate clearly and are able to demonstrate personal work on projects they’re interested in. Though we’re a successful studio we’re still quite DIY compared to much of the industry and I think that attitude of “how can I make this work right now?” is something that unites our team. We’re likely to look positively on people who’ve made their own games, tools or projects however big or small. After all, making video games is all about creating something out of thin air.
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