Marc Vaughan on making Football Manager for the palm of your hand

Inside Football Manager Handheld

Football Manager is the reigning champ of the management simulation genre.

The PC version, created by Sports Interactive, consistently ranks highly year-long in the UK PC and all formats charts.

In 2006, Sports Interactive began bringing their unique blend of football management to handheld platforms. And the following year, former head of development Marc Vaughan took up his current role as head of handheld development at the studio.

With the four iteration, Football Manager Handheld 2011, now available for PSP and iOS platforms, we quiz Vaughan on what it takes to make the Football Manager formula successful in handheld form, how the series has evolved and where it will go next.

Firstly, well done to Sports Interactive and Sega for donating all revenue from the FMH 2011 app from March 11-18 to a disaster relief fund for Japan. Was that your idea?
To be quite honest it’s something which SI has always done throughout our history – we try and support good causes where we can. The most publicised of these is probably our relationship with War Child, as that’s been ongoing for many years now. But we also support a fair few other causes both inside football and in the world at large.

While that’s not part of the normal business for a games studio, it is one of the things about SI which I’m most proud about.

Why does management simulation appeal to so many people?
I think it’s that age old thing where supporters of a team watch them play and think, “we’d be doing better if only he’d put (favourite player) on the pitch.” Management simulations allow people to find out whether their decisions would have been the right ones and live out the fantasy that they’re in charge of their team.

That’s a hugely appealing notion to any sports fan, heck half of us grew up wanting to be professional football players after all.

What is it about FMH that consistently separates it from the likes of Championship Manager and FIFA Manager?
To be frank, I prefer not to discuss other companies products – it takes a huge amount of time and effort to create a game and I think it’d be disrespectful to the teams involved in other products to say anything about them.

With regards to SI’s products, we have a relatively simple approach to things. We attempt to create a ‘living’ simulation of the football world and then allow the player to interact with it through the same options and abilities which the computer simulation ‘managers’ have within it. It’s as simple as that.

Taking this approach tends to lend itself to creating a realistic and compelling experience and importantly gives no artificial advantages or disadvantages to the human manager, which is vital if the world is to feel real to users.

Describe some of FMH’s major improvements in the last three years.
The three biggest features which FMH players would probably mention since its inception would be the 2D view, editing facilities (PSP only) and the ability to play multiple nations leagues at once.

The 2D view isn’t perfect at all yet, but its evolving nicely and is shaping nicely as it evolves through iterations. The scope of this side of the match is somewhat limited in part by the need to keep the matches short and snappy for people who are playing during commutes when they might only have a few minutes available to play, but I think it’s an exciting area and very enjoyable watching plays unfold.

Editing is something which everyone loves. It allows you to ‘correct’ any perceived errors in the database. For instance, for some reason the research team don’t believe me when I remind them that Bobby Zamora’s current ability really should be at least 25 points higher than it is.

Playing multiple leagues at once is something which allows for a more realistic simulation and also allows users to move between national leagues, finding new challenges during their careers.

What considerations do you have to make when adapting Football Manager for portable devices?
To be quite honest FMH isn’t an ‘adaptation’ of Football Manager, it’s a football management game in its own right. The basis for its original core was partially some of the code from our older football management games, but the games flavour and concept differ quite considerably from what we’re attempting to give people in Football Manager PC.

I think it’s vital that the game always retains that ‘pick up and play’ feel, where if you have five minutes spare you can dip into the game and play out a match quickly. This is a huge contrast to the PC version, where players can quite often start a game and take 30 minutes shopping around for players or tweaking tactics and suchlike before they even play their first match.

Since its conception, I’ve been trying to evolve it while also trying to balance the flow and speed of the game against any added complexity that new features might bring to the product, it’s a balancing act which is quite challenging but also very rewarding.

Finally despite their differences both FMH and the PC version do often influence each other’s evolution, with features being taken and adapted from one to the other.

How do you find working on an annual franchise where players expect a degree of familiarity as well as new innovations?
I really enjoy it to be honest. Heck, I’ve been doing it now for well over a decade so I’m fairly familiar with our users. I think it also helps that I’m one of them.

This aspect (expecting familiarity) of our user base is one of the reasons I often will ‘dip a toe’ into a feature and see how it’s received before evolving it further. People often don’t realise that a lot of things in our games are planned over several iterations with the evolution ‘backing out’ if users don’t appear to like something which has been done.

What’s in store for the future of Football Manager Handheld?
That I’m afraid you’ll have to wait and see. It’s an exciting time for handheld development, devices are getting more and more powerful and people who once upon a time wouldn’t have dreamed of owning a ‘handheld gaming console’ now own iPod Touches, Androids and iPhones. But as for how FMH will adapt to things, I’m afraid that is yet to be announced.

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