Sports Interactive unveils Football Manager

And, to nobody's surprise, signs up for five years with Sega.

British development studio Sports Interactive, responsible for the hugely successful Championship Manager games, has announced the signing of a five-year exclusive deal with Sega and details of its next game, Football Manager.

The studio, which had previously announced a publishing deal with Sega for its forthcoming hockey management sim, Eastside Hockey, will now be working in an exclusive development partnership with the Japanese company.

Sega will therefore be acting as global publisher for the developer's eagerly awaited follow-up to the Championship Manager series, which has been unveiled as Football Manager, scheduled for release on PC and Mac before Christmas this year.

Although Sports Interactive's previous titles, published by Eidos - which still owns the Championship Manager brand, and plans to develop competing management sims at a new studio in London - suffered from limited exposure outside of Britain, this is not expected to be the case for Football Manager.

"That's certainly the idea," Sports Interactive managing director Miles Jacobson told gi.biz when asked if the new game would be more widely distributed in overseas territories such as North America. "Sega is very much a global company, and we have full backing for a worldwide release for all of our titles."

The companies have also today announced details of a competition to design a logo for the new game, which will be open to the public and carries a top prize of 10,000 (14,750).

"We were looking for a way to get our community directly involved in the decision making process," explained Jacobson, "as well as being able to kick off the information campaign in a very strong way with the help of gamesradar.com and espnsoccernet.com [the sites on which the competition will be run]. There are always huge arguments about logos internally anyway, so what better way to decide than letting the fans choose it!"

The logo competition is just the first step in a process designed to inform gamers that the Football Manager title is the real continuation of the Championship Manager 4 games - a potentially difficult task, since Eidos hopes to launch Championship Manager 5, developed from scratch by a new studio, in the same timeframe as Football Manager.

"Obviously, losing the brand which we helped develop wasn't ideal, but we're looking forward to a friendly rivalry going forward," claims Jacobson. "It's going to be a slow process of education, not just for the original fans of the series, but for new customers as well. We're confident that our game is going to be great, and getting that across to people will be very important. The new team at Sega are very strong, so we're confident that, working together with them, we've got a very strong team for ensuring the people know that Football Manager 2005 is the football management game to buy."

Regarding the game itself, Sports Interactive is promising big things for fans of the Championship Manager series. "The game will have a completely new look, and have loads of new features, as well as improving on our engines from previous games," according to Jacobson. "The new features range from manager mind games, where you use the media to wind up other managers and teams through being sent 2D clips from agents of players that you might be interested in signing, with lots more in between."

Although Eastside Hockey, which is also expected to launch later this year, is the first game that Sports Interactive has attempted outside of the football management genre, the company and its new publishing partner are thought to have big plans going forward - with Jacobson even keen to explore the possibility of working with Sega's massive arcade machine division.

"We'd love to have our games in every household, every pub, every sports ground," he enthused. "Just everywhere really. So we'll have to wait and see what happens in the future, but it [the arcade division] is certainly something that we'd like to get involved with."

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