Another year, another Football Manager game. But this time developer Sports Interactive has chucked in dynamic league reputation, the most requested feature from the community.
The result? Unbridled joy, as the SEGA-owned studio's forums show. Following yesterday's reveal announcement, we sat down with studio director Miles Jacobson for a chat and discovered dynamic league reputation is just one of a few hundred new features for this year.
Eurogamer: Which new feature are you most excited about?
Miles Jacobson: The agents and the contracts negotiation, of the things that have been announced today. There is something else we're working on that we're going to announce in a few weeks that I'm very excited about.
When I play the game I'm a bit of a transfers whore. If I play as Watford I'm always looking for cheap young players to buy. If I play as Man City or a big Spanish or Italian club then I try to buy absolutely everyone.
It does change the way you have to do those things. Even things as simple as having agent fees and the extra clauses, those are in there as well.
If one of my players gets in the team of the year, I celebrate because I've got a player in the team of the year. But it's going to cost me money because of the guy's contract.
I expect Watford's chief exec is probably sitting there tonight hoping Scott Loach doesn't come on for England, because if he does we've probably got to pay Lincoln some more money from when we bought him.
Getting those kinds of things in there and properly accurate – a lot of research went into this, a lot of time spent with chief execs and agents at all levels of the game, to try and get as much information out of them as possible.
I even managed to get a couple of contracts from clubs where obviously lots of information had been redacted out. But to be able to see the proper clauses that really do go in. ...
Working with agents and hearing the different types of agents slagging off the other different types of agents was good fun.
Eurogamer: You must have got some really juicy gossip.
Miles Jacobson: Yeah, I did. But that stuff stays in the vault, otherwise those guys don't work with us again.
Eurogamer: How important is the implementation of dynamic league reputation?
Miles Jacobson: If you go to our forums today you'll see how important it is to the real hardcore players. I haven't seen a reaction to a feature like it. Not even when we announced we were going 3D.
For those who have long-term career games and like starting at the bottom and working their way up, it's going to be invaluable. If you are starting in a smaller league and you make that trip right the way to the top of the league and then start doing well in continental competitions, it's been stifling before.
You couldn't ever change your league into a global superstar. If you look at a lot of the changes that are happening in football nowadays, whether it be the players being attracted to the Russian league or the Turkish league – some of the players who are moving over there – the leagues in the Middle East, that wouldn't be possible in previous FMs because they would always be based at the starting point, if you like.
The Turkish league would be the Turkish league. It doesn't matter how good those clubs get in Turkey, the league reputation wouldn't improve. The development of the league overall wouldn't have been able to happen. Now it can.
It does make the game completely dynamic, rather than having that one area of static-ness that was still there.
Eurogamer: Is it a game changer?
Miles Jacobson: It is. It's something we've been working on for more than a year. It's a feature we would have liked to have out there in the last couple of versions but it wasn't working properly. Now it does.
It won't be a game changer for those people who play short-term games, who might play five or 10 seasons. But for those who play 20 or 30 seasons, you will notice the football world change in the same way as it has done in real life.
Eurogamer: We've got some reader questions. Fancy answering them?
Miles Jacobson: I'd love to.
Eurogamer: "Ask him how long it will take to play a season, on average. And don't let him wriggle off the hook by saying people play it different ways."
Miles Jacobson: People do play it in different ways! It will take roughly the same amount if not a little bit quicker than with FM10.
Miles Jacobson: Because there are some optimisations that will make it quicker. There are some areas that are slightly more automated if you want them to be.
For example, training, it's up to you whether you want to do the training or not. But optimisation means the processing in-between matches will be a bit faster.
We're not dumbing down the game at all. There are still a bunch of new features to announce, that if people want to use them in-depth then yes, that will end up with the seasons taking a bit longer.
If you want to play seasons through really quickly then the PSP game is there for that and our previous iPhone release. If you want an in-depth sim then that's what Football Manager's there for.
Eurogamer: "Can you ask if there is a new iPhone version planned?"
Miles Jacobson: There is one planned, I just don't know when and we don't have a feature set yet. That's why we haven't announced anything on it.
We're still deciding whether we keep that as a pre-Christmas or as a March release, as the first release was. There is a team of people working on a new iPhone game.
Eurogamer: "Ipad version please :)"
Miles Jacobson: The iPhone version works fine on iPad by pressing the times two button. It actually scales up quite nicely. I sit at home playing it on the iPad.
Eurogamer: "Can we port over editor data or league edit data from FM2010 onto the new game? It would be nice if there were a conversion feature of some kind."
Miles Jacobson: You know what? I haven't tried. So that's a really good question. I will go and ask someone in our test room to try it.
I know there are certain new features that might make that difficult but I doubt it would take that much tweaking. But whether you can load in previous edited stuff into the FM11 editor, I'm not sure.
I will get someone to look at it, and he should ask us that question on the forum once we've spoken about what's changed in the editor this year. By then I'll have an answer for he or she.
Eurogamer: How has the PSP version changed?
Miles Jacobson: We've announced a few new features on there today. The problem with the PSP version is we've run out of memory on the PSP.
So we can only add new stuff on the PSP when we've done other optimisations to give us some more space.
There's a new improved skin. We've improved the squad selection, and there are improved graphics and bug fixes and polishing bits and bobs.
Being brutally honest, there are not a load of new features on the PSP version this year because anything we want to do we can't because it 'aint got no more memory.
Eurogamer: Has FM become too complex in recent years?
Miles Jacobson: With the backroom advice stuff we added to FM10 it makes it a lot easier to play the game. There are loads of areas you can go into the backroom advice once a week, click a few buttons and they're done for you. It is possible to play the game in an easier way.
But we are trying to make a simulation here. We can't dumb it down. The iPhone and PSP games are there to be more fun and lighter. The PC and Mac game is going to continue going down the route of simulation.
As always, we will be releasing a demo a couple of weeks before release. It'll be a half season demo. There's a good seven, eight hours of gameplay in there. Try it out and then decide.
We always do demos. We believe they're the most important thing we can do to encourage people to buy the game. Let them not only try the game first, but take their save game and continue it on if or when they buy the box.
It's also my best argument against piracy. If we've released a free demo that's lengthy, then there really is no reason to pirate the game.
Eurogamer: Has that worked for you?
Miles Jacobson: No, of course not. People who pirate are still going to pirate, but it gives me an argument against it.
Eurogamer: Any home console plans?
Miles Jacobson: No. We still haven't found a decent control system for a joypad. We have people who are constantly looking at it. We will carry on looking at it. If we do have that breakthrough of working out how to do it then that's when it will happen.
The only people who've managed to take a typically PC-heavy game and turn it into a console game and make it work were Firaxis with Civilization Revolution. We tried to do the same thing they did and it still didn't work for us.
We'll continue looking at it but I'm not prepared to give people substandard games. I believe we did do that on the 360 version because we couldn't get the right control method.
Despite the fact that was making decent money, there are more important things than that, such as satisfaction of not only the customers but of us as well.
Hopefully we will have a breakthrough because we want to be able to entertain as many people as possible with our games.
Eurogamer: How's FM doing sales wise these days?
Miles Jacobson: We sold more copies of Football Manager in the last 12 months than we've ever sold before in a similar period of time.
It's still growing. Last year piracy did hit the PC game. It was cracked earlier than normal. We do track these stats. So sales were down slightly on the PC version.
But the iPhone game did really well. That made up for it.
Eurogamer: There's this perception that perhaps the genre isn't as popular now as it used to be in the 90s when the charts were filled with football management sims.
Miles Jacobson: The difference was in those times there were more football management games selling fewer copies, whereas now there are fewer football management games selling more copies.
Our sales have never been stronger. We certainly do much better on FM than we did with our previous brand. You guys interviewed the guys from FIFA Manager not so long ago and they told you how well they were still doing in Germany.
The market is definitely still there. The PC is not dead. I get frustrated with people who say that it is. Tell that to Blizzard. Tell that to us. Tell that to BioWare. Tell that to Kongregate. Tell that to Steam. We're alive and well and there's a thriving indie scene as well on the PC, which is fantastic to see.
Eurogamer: FIFA Manager wants to win the UK in a couple of years. Are you worried?
Miles Jacobson: We concentrate on what we do. It's our job to raise the bar. That's what we'll continue doing.
If they come along and sell five million copies in the UK, and we're still doing the numbers we're doing now, I'm quite happy with that.
The two games are different stylistically and appeal to different people.
I respect those guys a lot. They've been making these games for as long as we have. Before FIFA Manager they were working with another brand.
But no, I'm not concerned. We're making a simulation. They're making a game. There are big differences.
Eurogamer: When will you next make some noise about Football Manager 11?
Miles Jacobson: Probably this weekend. I'm recording a podcast tomorrow [today] and I will ask people on my personal Twitter to pick a number between one and five hundred just before I go in an do it, and I'll choose 10 of those.
I will then look up on the database what the feature is based on that number and that will come out, whether it's been announced or not, whether it's big or small. We call it Feature Roulette. We have to pad it out a bit, so some of them will be blank.
The other major things we want to make a splash about, there will be blogs about those probably in about two to three weeks. One of them will be as soon as legal sign it off. We'll be announcing that as a separate thing because it's a deal we're doing with someone that isn't signed yet.
There will be some things that won't get revealed at all that you guys will find when you start playing preview code.
It's actually really exciting this year. There's so much stuff in there. We're in that position because last year we had a polish year and naively we didn't realise the knock on would be lots more time to be able to do more stuff.
If you've got fewer bugs to fix you've got more time to put new features in. We had a database that had 1500 ideas in. It's now got over 2000. A good few hundred of those have been done this year in a controlled way so we make sure they all fit together.
It's a very exciting year.
Football Manager 2011 will be released on the PC, Mac and PSP before Christmas 2010.