Yesterday, Sports Interactive confirmed the release date for Football Manager 2021 (24th November on PC via Steam and the Epic Games Store), but the announcement was overshadowed by a kerfuffle about why the game is not coming out on PlayStation when it is coming out on Xbox.
This year, Football Manager returns to Xbox for the first time since 2007. Football Manager 2021 Xbox Edition is described as a "specifically tailored" version of the game, based upon the Touch series of Football Manager, fully customised for use with an Xbox controller.
FM21 Xbox, as it's called, will be available from the Xbox Store and is a Play Anywhere digital title, which means you can play your save game across your Xbox and any Windows 10 PC. FM21 Xbox is available on Xbox One and Xbox Series X / S - you pay once and you can play across the Xbox consoles.
There's also a Nintendo Switch version (out December 2020), as well as an iOS and Android version. But you can't play Football Manager 21 on PlayStation - either PS4 or PS5. And this is where Sports Interactive boss Miles Jacobson comes in.
As you'd expect, PS4 and (potential) PS5 owners wondered why Football Manager 2021 wasn't coming to their platform of choice. Had Microsoft paid for exclusivity on console? Jacobson took to Twitter to offer an explanation:
"Being asked this a lot & will get into trouble for answering...
"Our friends at @Xbox have spent years asking for us to come back to their consoles. It's how both FM19 & FM20 ended up on gamepass towards the end of the cycle, and now FM21 on Xbox One & Series X/S.
Being asked this a lot & will get into trouble for answering..— Miles Jacobson (@milesSI) September 24, 2020
Our friends at @Xbox have spent years asking for us to come back to their consoles. It's how both FM19 & FM20 ended up on gamepass towards the end of the cycle, and now FM21 on Xbox One & Series X/S.
Sony didn't. https://t.co/G4PJPWctdO
This tweet kicked off quite the debate, and Jacobson has been answering questions ever since, defending his position and explaining why Sports Interactive can't simply force Football Manager onto PlayStation without Sony's help or permission.
"So, essentially, Microsoft approached us to have our games on their platform, whereas Sony didn't," he explained in one tweet. "The platforms are gated & curated."
In another tweet, Jacobson said Sports Interactive did speak to Sony, but did not receive a PS5 dev kit. (Developers use dev kits to make games for consoles, but these dev kits must be sent out with approval for their use by their manufacturers.)
"... to make games for a platform, you need a dev kit," Jacobson said. "To get a dev kit, the platform holder have to want the game on the platform. We spoke with Sony, we have no dev kits. We spoke with Microsoft, they sent them to us."
Sony has come in for some stick, but Jacobson was quick to defend the corporation's decision. "It's not terrible of them at all," he said. "There are limited dev kits available. They prioritise games they want on their platform, as all hardware platforms do."
Perhaps Sony has more PS5 dev kits available now, one user wondered. "FM21 will not be on PlayStation 5," Jacobson countered. "It's not as if a magic wand can be waved if they were to send us a dev kit tomorrow and it would just work. Would be years of work - as the Xbox version has been."
It's the same situation for a potential PS4 version (the short answer is no):
making games for PS4 requires a dev kit the same way that making games on PS5 does. And has the same curation & gating process.— Miles Jacobson (@milesSI) September 25, 2020
And, if you were wondering, it sounds like Nintendo was keen to get Football Manager onto Switch. "Nintendo approached us about making games for their platforms, showed us their in development hardware, we got excited together, they provided us with dev kits, and bundle deals with the hardware with some retailers and we made games for their platform, yes," Jacobson said.
In a follow-up statement issued to Eurogamer today, Jacobson clarified his tweets, defending the transparency he offered on social media about the situation. Here's the statement in full:
"I pride myself on being very open with our community via social media and try to answer as many questions as I can, however controversial they may be. I also try to explain to people why decisions that they don't like are made, because whilst I've been working in the industry for more than 25 years, the people I talk to online don't always know exactly how the system works. I am the same person on social media that I am in real life - upfront, honest and passionate.
"So, when I'm asked a question about why we've decided to come back to Xbox for FM21, I'm honest about it. Microsoft have spent years wooing us to be on their platforms. It led to us being a launch title for the beta of Xbox Game Pass for PC and it's led to FM21 being a launch window title for Xbox Series X and S, with Xbox One versions too.
"We've worked with PlayStation many times in the past, with both PSP and Vita releases of Football Manager over the years. What I learnt last night is that many of the most ardent console fans don't actually know that there are processes in place with all of the hardware manufacturers that mean they have a great deal of control over which games come to their consoles - and that there is bespoke hardware required to being able to make games for those platforms.
"So, given that we've got a deal in place with Microsoft, they sent us that necessary hardware. We don't have a deal in place with Sony, so we don't have that necessary hardware from them. Personally, I've pre-ordered both consoles because there are incredible games that I want to play coming to each of them."
The upshot of all this is FM21 is not coming to PS4 or PS5. Perhaps Football Manager 2022 is a better bet - if Sports Interactive can get hold of a PS5 dev kit, that is.