On paper, Football Manager Live couldn't lose. Take one established and very popular PC series about a sport loved by millions around the world and turn it into an MMO. But the contender Sports Interactive turned out wasn't fully match fit, and the result was a long hard self-examination last summer and the difficult decision to reboot, reset and relaunch Football Manager Live.
This week brought about D-Day, and loyal subscribers lost months' worth of time invested as the playing-field was unilaterally levelled. Why did it happen? What happened? Will it work? Will it happen again? We cornered Marc Duffy, Sports Interactive's product manager for Football Manager Live, to find out.
Eurogamer: Football Manager Live has undergone a reboot. What's going on?
Marc Duffy: OK. We soft-launched the game in November 2008 and had a hard launch in January 2009. What's happened can be broken down into three areas: gameplay mechanics, pricing and operational issues.
With the gameplay mechanics we made too many major changes to the game in a short space of time. We had the game structured so it definitely favoured people with database knowledge.
If you were a Football Manager fan and you played all of our games previously, it was a mad rush to get into your game world on the first day. If you did that, our statistics showed that you would be in the top 20 or 30 in your game world, and you had no chance of ever being caught. We had completely, not deliberately, totally imbalanced things.
We made steps with the reboot to address pretty much all of the major concerns that we found and people told us about the original release.
Price-wise, we've dropped to £4.99 a month. When the game was first launched, the headline price was £72 a year, which although it probably worked out the same, was asked for upfront in one big instalment. The minimum you could join for was three months. Your minimum outlay if you just wanted to try the game was £24.
For Football Manager fans, that pricing model was alien. What we've done now is get the price down to match our original PR message, "A couple of pints a month," rather than, "A couple of pints in Norway." So, £4.99 a month, absolutely no tie-ins at all. You pay one month at a time and it's recurring billing, so if you don't like the game, or if your circumstances change, you can cancel straight away. There are no other costs to bear.
Operationally, the main issue was that we spread our subscriber base too thinly across the game worlds. We didn't manage our roll-outs of game worlds properly - not because we didn't do our jobs properly, but because MMOs were new to us at the time.
We had this scenario where if we had 700 people waiting to join the game, we'd open a new game world. We didn't create any sense of demand for the game. Literally, 700 people, "Let's go." And because of the gameplay issues as well it became very hard to fill those older game worlds up. That was one of the key learnings we had in the summer when we took a step back and had a look at how the game was performing.
All of those issues helped us come to the conclusion that the best thing for the game was to reboot it.