Football Manager Classic stole the show in our Football Manager 2013 review. Not only does it distil Football Manager for a time-pressed audience put off by the series' increasing complexity, Classic reinvigorated FM for a long-time fan. It helped reviewer Jack Arnott find the fun in football management games again.
"The question now is where the series goes from here," Arnott wrote. "Football Manager offers the most detailed and in-depth management experience ever made, as it does every year. But is that what most of us really want?
"Each year the full game gets more complex, more will defect to Classic," he predicted. "And if Classic takes off (as I think it will), it can't be long before it will justify a release in its own right. Will SI continue to invest in the full game if its audience is overtaken by its little sister?"
Yes; core Football Manager won't be affected by whatever success Classic has. What's more, Sports Interactive won't break Classic apart from the core installments of Football Manager on PC.
"It won't be broken out on PC," Sports Interactive studio director Miles Jacobson told me yesterday afternoon. "The plan is to offer a value for money proposition that is greater than any other in the industry."
Last year the average time spent on Football Manager was 129 hours, he said, and this year there are two-and-a-half game modes more: Classic, Challenge and the Network mode. "The plan is very much to keep them all in the same package together," he said.
"The plan is to offer a value for money proposition that is greater than any other in the industry."
Jacobson also reiterated that the paid unlockables in Classic won't sneak into core Football Manager. "Football Manager is sacrosanct," Jacobson stamped. "The simulation mode will never have unlockables in. It does not fit the type of game that it is. Whilst I'm here at the studio, Football Manager will not have unlockables."
Jacobson once told me Classic was pitched to owner and publisher Sega as a standalone game. I hadn't realised until yesterday, however, that Classic was originally intended as Sports Interactive's big return to consoles.
"When we pitched FMC for console as our return to console we actually went off and did a bunch of research, and Sega effectively forced us to do a huge Harris Poll with 9000 people around Europe," Jacobson revealed. "And I'm really really pleased that they did, because the feedback we got was yes, Football Manager Classic is a great idea, please don't put it on console.
"People who tend to play our games tend to be doing it while a partner is doing something else or while their kids are watching telly. They don't want to take over their TV with it: they want to play it on their laptop.
"So we have no plans to come back to consoles," Jacobson declared, "we're going to stick to computers and handheld devices."
So Sports Interactive doesn't want to break FM core and FM Classic apart on PC, and FM fans don't want to monopolise their tellies with the game either - they'd rather use a second screen. Sounds like a perfect fit for tablets. But, alas, no - at least not yet.
"At the moment, being brutally honest, tablets aren't powerful enough for Classic," Jacobson informed me. "That's why we're going to continue with Handheld on tablets that are out there at the moment.
"...the feedback we got was yes, Football Manager Classic is a great idea, please don't put it on console."
"Again, the way that technology's changing, that could change in the next couple of years, but until that point, we're going to continue with FMH being our game for iOS and Android devices."
Talking of Football Manager Handheld, where is it? When I last spoke to Jacobson he was waiting for the iPhone 5 announcement, tick, and for Football Manager 2013 to be released, tick. Well, he couldn't narrow it down further than "before Christmas" on both iOS and Android because of submission processes. Game features will be announced in the next couple of weeks.
"But we will have a PSP version again this year as well," he revealed, "which is either going to come on 30th November or 7th December, depending on how quickly we can get the discs manufactured."
The PSP game will work and be available to download on Vita. Whether or not a bespoke Vita Football Manager game happens depends on hardware sales. "A lot of that's going to depend on how Vita does this Christmas, because we are a niche game and we need a certain amount of devices to be out there. If there's not a market for us to be able to make the game make money on it, we won't do it, but fingers crossed, because there's a lot of people here that would like to be working on it."
If you pre-ordered Football Manager 2013 you could play a beta version two weeks early. It wasn't meant as a way to find bugs, but find them players did. The overhauled match engine was disallowing goals, letting in goals at back posts from corners, making goalkeepers do "silly" things and having defenders sometimes ignore the ball. God, how unrealistic. There's a new version of the match engine in the Football Manager 2013 release build and "all those are nailed", said Jacobson. "It wasn't the original point of doing the beta pre-order," he admitted, "but it ended up being a very nice side-effect of it."
"If there were no dishonest people in the world then we would do a public beta."
SI spends "a fortune" each year - "hundreds upon hundreds of thousands of pounds" - on QA testing Football Manager both in-house and out (apparently there are a couple of hundred people in "the world of football" who give feedback on the game). But all that can't match the collective testing of the thousands of people in that pre-order beta. So why doesn't SI use a beta as many MMO companies do, to weed out the bugs in their vast worlds or simulations?
"Well we do have a beta and we have around 150 to 200 people on the beta. The problem with doing public betas is public betas lead to your game being cracked," Jacobson said. "If there were no dishonest people in the world then we would do a public beta. It's a shame but that is the way of the world."
So it is that Football Manager has to live with having a bit of a reputation for bugs. Perhaps it's an unavoidable part of being a very complex, procedurally generated game.
"I'd love to be able to say to you that at some point in the future we will have a game with no bugs in it at all," Jacobson said. "But I'm a realist, so we just do the best that we possibly can to iron out issues that are there.
"And also," he added, "some things people think are bugs actually aren't, so we have to be careful to make sure that we are accurately simulating football and not accurately simulating the best 11 players playing the best 11 players on a pitch that's actually made of perfect carpet."