If you don't like football, you might have never played a Football Manager game. If you do, you'll be champing at the bit to get the latest news straight from the horse's mouth. David Brown strapped on Miles Jacobson's nose bag, marked “Studio Director at Sports Interactive” in solid gold lettering, and guided him nicely into the interview pasture, where he grazed on delicious questions and spewed out nourishing answers to help the expectations of all fans to grow. Enough with the equine analogies, on with the words:
DB – Talk to us about the new Reserves and B-Team changes you've made.
Miles Jacobson – Basically, there are some countries where the game sells really well, but we're not modelling their leagues in the right way. In Spain, as an example, Barcelona have a B team and a C team who are both involved in the league structure, they're not just a reserve team. There were some issues that were reported to us about moving players around in those leagues and when those players had to be registered by. Then we got some feedback from Denmark as well, which is one of our strongest territories, saying that the amateur side of the game in Denmark is wrong. You know, teams of different stages will become amateur and, when they get into certain divisions, they can't be any more. It ended up, going through it all, that there were around 20 countries that were featured in the game that had either B team or amateur set ups that we were doing generically and were doing generically incorrectly.
There were some changes that needed to be made in those areas and we worked with people from those countries to make sure we could get it as accurate as possible. It's the kind of anal level of detail that we look at with the game, but that's what makes it what it is. We're being used in university courses now, which there'll be more about later in the year, to do with sports science and sports law.
DB – Would it be interesting to manage a reserve, like start at, say, Liverpool as the reserve team manager and try to make a name for yourself that way?
MJ – No, and the reason I say no so quickly is it's been brought up a couple of times before. It'd be kind of boring, because you wouldn't be doing any transfers. If you were managing just the B team, which you can do as Castilla (Real Madrid's B team that plays in the lower leagues in Spain – Ed), that’d be fine; but if you were managing just Liverpool reserves, it's the simple case, for me, that most reserve teams are told what tactic to play by the main manager. There might be three or four players that they actually get to pick, whereas the others are the main manager saying “I want you to play this guy at left wing, this guy at left back.” There's just not much to do as a reserve team manager.
DB – How similar is the new set piece creator to the one introduced in the latest Championship Manager game?
MJ – Nothing like it at all. If you remember the tactics creator from last year, that's what the set piece creator's like. It's basically a way to go through the different options you can do for set pieces and to create different set pieces for different tactics you're going to use. It's there so that you can set up your set pieces and get your team training in those as part of the match preparation module. It's not there to find exploits in the match engine, it's not there to set it up doing silly things that you couldn't do in real life. It's a very sensible wizard system for helping you do set pieces, and one of the reasons it went in was we found people didn't really edit their set pieces much, yet when I've been going off to training sessions at clubs, it's a very important part of what they train in before matches.
DB – Will this come into FML then?
MJ – I'd have thought so. We'll see how it goes down in FM first. There's a few things we've tried out in FML that have gone into FM and vice versa. I'm not sure whether I've seen it yet actually.
DB – How do you feel about Championship Manager getting put on indefinite hold?
MJ – It's sad from my perspective to see something that I've worked on for a long time, a brand that I was involved with building up not being as strong as it once was, but that's just a purely personal thing. I really like Roy (Meredith, Beautiful Game Studios – Ed) as a person, I've known him for longer than I've been making games, bizarrely enough, but what they're actually doing game-wise, I don't really know, I don't follow it that closely. We don't spend a lot of time playing other management games; we're more involved with trying to improve ours rather than looking at others. There was a cut-off point for us, which was when we bought the Football Manager brand and signed to Sega, and that's our brand now. So I don't spend a lot of time thinking about it, we've seen a lot of brands come and go, some of which we were involved with, some of which we weren't.
DB – One of the reasons that's been cited for the lack of success for the recent Championship Manager games has been a problem getting boxed copies in stores. Would you agree with that?
MJ – We never have a problem getting our games in stores, except in America. The soccer genre isn't huge. I mean, FIFA's done pretty well, but the soccer genre isn't huge and the management genre is the nichest of niches, so in America we sell the game through Amazon, through digital partners rather than core retail, but we've got no problems with other retail in Europe. We sold just shy of a million boxed products last year, which for a niche product is pretty good.
DB – That's not including digital sales, is it?
MJ – No, and Starcraft II did pretty well, World of Warcraft doesn't do badly as a boxed game. Neither does the Sims and neither does Total War, how many more examples do you need of PC games that do well? I actually argue about this quite a lot with FPS devs, because they'll turn around and say “No, no, no, the PC market's dead”. It's not, the PC market's not dead, it's just the FPS has moved to consoles, and they've been able to do that because someone came up with a great control system that has now been adopted by most other FPS games that made it possible to do. We haven't hit that magic thing yet in the management market.
DB – The iPhone's come close though...?
MJ – Well, the iPhone's a very different game, so that game is very much cut down, it's designed for the platform. There were lots of changes that were made from the PSP game for the iPhone, because they suited the platform a lot better. It's sold really well, been a bit of a revelation.
DB – How have you attempted to make the press conferences more interesting in the long term?
MJ – We've got a bunch more questions in there, the answers are a lot more tailored, but the realism of the situation is if you got bored with them in previous games, you'll get bored with them in this one. It'll just take longer for you to get bored with them. We would love to have a press conference system that had 50,000 questions, but there aren't that many you could ask that would be valid or would have valid answer sets, so we do what we can with it. In FM11, you can release statements yourself, around leagues or players or managers, but what else would you want to release a statement to the press about?
DB – I was thinking in multiplayer games, my opponent can't often see the comments that I've made or had made about me...
MJ – Right, ok.
DB – I make a comment in a multiplayer game, but nobody else can see it...?
MJ – Seriously, send us an e-mail with ideas and they'll get put forward.
DB – How about the issue of interface lag in internet multiplayer? Has that been addressed?
MJ – There have been some improvements made this year, and the beauty of having an MMO team now as well is we've got some extra knowledge from that, but if you're on the internet, you're only going to be as good as the connection you're on. But we don't concentrate a lot of resources on that particular element, but as I said, there have been some optimisations this year, so hopefully it'll be better. A couple of our coders are obsessed by the online game, so even though they're not working on it officially, they'll bung in a couple of extra features each year.
DB – And these 'newgens' that have been mentioned in the literature? Are they just your average regenerated players as always?
MJ – They haven't been called 'regens' for a while now. They went from regens to being 'Freds' to being 'newgens'. They were called Freds because we couldn't think of a name for them, and they were a hybrid between regen and newgen. Fred, at the time, was an unheard of Brazilian striker who was doing phenomenally well in my team, so someone turned around and said “well, what the f*ck are we going to call this?” and I said “call it Fred.” It stuck. Then they became newgens.
So, the newgen revamps, rather than trying to keep the database at the same level of making sure there are the right amount of different defenders, midfielders, forwards among different bands of potential ability, the new system looks at the player roles that we added last year. The reason we added roles is because most players actually fit into those different categories. There are so many different types of player roles just for the centre forward position that just saying ST (for striker – Ed) isn't good enough anymore. That’s why we added in the Trequartistas and the deep-lying striker, advanced forward, goal poacher.
The newgen system makes sure that each new player has the right stats to go into one or multiple of those roles, because obviously players can have multiple roles. There are also extra bits that take into account nationalities and national traits, so while there'll still be the anomalies, if you're expecting an English centre back to be a wonderful, ball-playing passer, you might be disappointed. It's not really been in there before, although for Brazilians, yes – IF you had the Brazilian league running, then yes, because it was based on the players already in the database, whereas with this new system, it gives extra scope to be taken into account, particularly when those leagues aren't running.
DB – Any chance of the Japanese league ever coming back?
MJ – Not for the forseeable future, no. You could always add the J-League yourself using the data editor, but there are valid reasons why it isn't in the game, which unfortunately I'm not legally allowed to go into.
DB – How's Football Manager Live going?
MJ – It's going alright. We had quite bad churn before the reset, but that's levelled off now. Churn is where people leave and are then replaced, so negative churn is less replacements than leavers. I think new people coming into the gameworlds are finding it easier to get settled, particularly in the Returning Stars gameworlds, and that was a key thing that we needed to get right. So we're in a position where it's steady, we're growing very slowly, but we're not losing loads of money any more. As long as the passion remains within the dev team and as long as we can keep increasing the users slowly, then we're fine.
We've stopped thinking it's going to be a massively mainstream that'll have white van drivers playing, 200,000 subscribers and so on. You know, if we can get up to 20,000 subs to it, that'll be pretty good. One thing we do really want to happen with FML though is we want to get more feedback from customers, because we find that the forums are quite difficult to go through. If you read them, there's a lot of doom and gloom about FML on the official subscriber forums, but it's coming from a few people, and if you actually go into the gameworlds and talk to people, they're pretty happy. There's some interesting ideas coming, it's just a case of keeping it going.