Like all the best footy transfers, Sports Interactive's decision to sign with Sega has been on the cards for months. And then finally, just when you thought the British developer was on its way to Japan last week, it all became unclear once again, with the players themselves redefining ambiguity on a daily basis and even throwing a bunch of red herrings out to swim the oceans of hyperbole.
Fortunately though for the headline writers, who were rapidly running short of superlatives, the expected announcement has finally come, and SI has delivered a bounty of treats that genuinely befits the build-up, from a couple of hat-tricks of screenshots and enough information to tickle the stattos pink, to the promise of ten bloody thousand pounds to anybody who can come up with a decent logo. (Our advice? Don't use footballs for the 'o's - quite a lot of people probably have that in mind.)
As far as product announcements go, SI hasn't so much let the cat out of the bag as they've reinvented the cat. To start you off, there's the original announcement detailing the terms of the five-year deal with Sega and a few words from Sports Interactive MD Miles Jacobson, then there are the very first screenshots of the game, and to top it all off we even have a pre-rolled Q&A that addresses many of the average fan's concerns. Grab a scarf and a prawn sarnie and let's see what they have to say for themselves...
Joe Public: Why, after such a long relationship with Eidos, have you signed a deal with Sega?
Sports Interactive: There were lots of issues to consider in any new deal. Eidos and SI had different strategies going forward, but we're proud of the work we did with them. I think it's fair to say that we look forward to enjoying a healthy and friendly rivalry with Eidos in the future."
As for signing with Sega? It was difficult to resist the lure of one of the biggest names in the business. And Sega is so much more than just a household name too; the company is strong right across the world and is committed to taking our game to the next level and to making Football Manager a truly global brand. It's great for us to be involved in a new phase for Sega, and we aim to make great games with them.
Joe Public: Is it a major blow to lose the Championship Manager brand?
Sports Interactive: Of course it's going to be difficult to for us to work against the brand that we helped build over the last 11 years, but we believe that the people who play and love our games look beyond such things and, ultimately, will make their decision based on the respective quality of the games on offer to them. In many ways, I believe that there is as much pressure on Eidos and its new development team as there is on us. They will have to work very hard to maintain the standards that we have set and they are working from a standing start. We have a code base and database which has been worked upon and refined for well over a decade, so we have already overcome an awful lot of the difficulties that they are going to face. The other side of the coin is that we now have a fantastic name to go forward with... and it's ours to keep.
We thought long and hard before making the decision to change publisher - especially as we knew that we wouldn't be taking the CM name with us - but in the end we weighed up all of the pros and cons and are sure that we made the correct decision.
Joe Public: Do you have a launch date for the first release of Football Manager?
Sports Interactive: It's too early for us to set a specific date, but the plan is to release the game before Christmas 2004 and we are well on course to achieve this. Fans should keep a close eye on the SI website, which is likely to be where the date is first announced.
Joe Public: Will Football Manager be just an updated version of your previous games, with a new 'lick of paint' to go with the new name?
Sports Interactive: First of all, the interface will look different to what's come before. We've taken the opportunity afforded to us by the change of name and publisher to take a good look at what we've done in the past and we've rebuilt the game's look in a way that we believe will be welcomed by our fan base and any new players that we attract. Not only that, we have made a significant number of improvements 'under the bonnet'. Having said all that, we have always strived to make our the football management experience derived from our games as close to realism as humanly possible... and this one will be no different in that respect.
Joe Public: Do you expect the game to continue evolving into the future?
Sports Interactive: We keep an ongoing document of ideas that we would like to implement into the game and features we can add and change to keep pace with the real-life game of football. As things stand - even with the improvements and additions that are scheduled for the first version of Football Manager - that document comprises about 100 pages of A4... and it's still growing.
Joe Public: Are you planning to bring your successful management game formula to other sports and, if so, which ones?
Sports Interactive: We've already announced our first non-football management game, Eastside Hockey Manager (this is a working title), which will hopefully have the same impact on ice hockey fans that CM did on football fans all those years ago. That will be the first game that we release with Sega. Our long-term plan is to grow organically and not to take on more than we can manage, so don't expect a sudden rush of forays into new sports.
Joe Public: How are you going to ensure that the huge fan base of your previous games knows that you are now developing a new football management game and that it's called Football Manager?
Sports Interactive: We know that this is going to be among the hardest tasks that face us over the next few months. CM was popular with an extraordinary number of people and it will be our job to make sure that those same people at least know of the new game and get to sample the demo. We're confident that our new game's demo will be enough to convince all players of our previous games that the future of football management games is safe in our hands. We have a very active community of users who visit the www.sigames.com website on a regular basis, so we hope that we can not only get the news to them but that we can also convince them to spread the news to their friends and families. To add to that, we also have a number of marketing and promotion initiatives planned over the next few months, details of which will be revealed in due course.
Joe Public: You dipped your toes into the waters of console game development with the Xbox version of CM. Do you see yourselves doing something similar with Football Manager?
Sports Interactive: We are only too happy to develop our games for any platform which can handle them. The first version of Football Manager will be published on PC and Mac. After that? We'll just have to wait and see.
Joe Public: Will you provide any support to members of the CM community who want to continue to play older versions of the game?
Sports Interactive: Yes. We are keeping all of our technical support forums open, and the forums for those games too.
Joe Public: Do you plan to follow the same release pattern as you followed with CM, i.e. releasing a new version of the game every few years, with season updates near the beginning of each new football season?
Sports Interactive: The plan is definitely to have an updated release of Football Manager on the shelves every year. I'm not a big fan of the term 'season updates', as we always do more than simply update the game's database - all of our games incorporate new and improved features. We see this as an annual evolution and very good value for money.
Joe Public: How do you think your fan base will react to a new game coming out using the name 'Championship Manager'?
Sports Interactive: I expect that they'll get the demo and decide if they like the game or not, the same with Football Manager 2005. We're just concentrating on making FM an even better game than our previous games, and will do our best to educate the fans of our previous games that FM is the one for the future.
Joe Public: Is it fair to say that this will be the first time that your football management game has had serious competition and, if so, do you welcome that?
Sports Interactive: We've always had plenty of competition. Over the years, there's been Ultimate Soccer Manager, Total Club Manager, various Player Manager games, Premier Manager and many more. It's always good to have competition, as it keeps you on your toes, but we find that our toughest competition is ourselves... we're always trying to better our previous games and will continue to do so.
Joe Public: Eidos has made a great deal of the experience that its new team has had in the creation of numerous football games. Are you a fan of any of that team's previous games?
Sports Interactive: The only football games that I've enjoyed over the past five years or so have been our own (on the management side) and Konami's (on the playing side). I am glad that a large number of UK developers have found themselves employment, though, as it's very tough out there at the moment for people looking for jobs. Our people happen to be very experienced themselves, with the core of the 24-man team having worked on the series for 15 years (with only two people leaving the team in that time).
Joe Public: If there is one criticism that has been levelled about your games in recent years, it's related to the speed at which they run. How do you react to this criticism?
Sports Interactive: We're always working on all aspects of the game, and increasing the speed of processing is always a priority. However, we will never 'dumb down' our game for the sake of increased speed, as so many of our rivals do. Our aim is to provide the most accurate and absorbing simulation of football management possible. This, we know, is what fans of our game are looking for above all else.