Every time I interview Miles Jacobson about a new Football Manager game I wonder what on Earth he could possibly say that people who aren't die-hard fans of the series will possibly want to read about. It's not that he's boring, it's not that Football Manager's boring - but it's an annual series we know to its bones.
So when I spoke to Miles Jacobson about Football Manager 2013 this afternoon, I didn't expect to write all that lot down there. Most of it tumbled naturally out of Football Manager Classic. That's the big new idea in FM 2013. It's a stripped down, simpler and less time-consuming version of the main game. Something for someone like me. And I'm pumped.
But why simplify it?
Read one way, Classic could be Football Manager's attempt to go mainstream, and die-hard fans won't like that, will you? So why do it?
"Every year, we have people who drop out of the franchise because they don't have the time to play it any more," Jacobson told me. "Classic mode is to try and get those people back playing our games, because they want to play our games, they just don't have the time to do it, because of the 105 median hours that people play. That's why we've done Classic mode."
Then, later, he said: "It's something that we thought other people might have done by now and they haven't, so we're just going to have to do it ourselves."
People's playing habits evolve. Miles Jacobson would "love" to be playing Skyrim, he told me, but he just doesn't have the time.
"It's something that we thought other people might have done by now and they haven't, so we're just going to have to do it ourselves."Miles Jacobson, boss, Sports Interactive
"It's got to the stage now where I actually sit and watch mates playing games," he shared. "I'll invite a mate round knowing that I've got to work for the evening, and then I'll have them sit down playing an FPS or an RPG and I'll watch them playing.
"They love it as well, because they get to play games and, you know, there's free drink at my house. And we do talk while we're playing it - I just happen to be stuck working a lot of the time."
Football Manager Classic is for those people, and for people who feel like Football Manager Handheld is "a little bit too light", said Jacobson, as if he knew my thoughts.
What will Classic be like to play?
Football Manager Classic has "all the bells and whistles" of the main Football Manager game - like the 3D match engine. It was once known as "the tactics and transfers version of FM", I'm told, with a little bit of training "stuff" if you wanted - if not, it could be automated.
"Essentially," Jacobson summarised, "it's going back to the old school era of management games, whether that be FM 2005 or slightly before, and trying to have something that people are able to play in shorter bursts and get through quicker."
So, You pick your team, pick your formation, buy your players - "or choose who you want your club to buy and give them to your director of football to go and buy for you" - and "get on with it".
RPG elements like press conferences and player interactions have been "stripped back".
"It's more visually appealing, and the font is larger because there's less information that we have to cram onto the screens."Miles Jacobson
Football Manager Classic will also look different to Football Manager 2013, even though it's part of the same game. "It's a lot brighter and more graphical than the current Football Manager series," apparently, but there's still some experimentation being done.
"It's more visually appealing," as Jacobson put it, "and the font is larger because there's less information that we have to cram onto the screens. So: bigger, brighter, bolder and better for older people like me who've needed to start wearing glasses in the last couple of years."
Some Eurogamer readers pointed out that an experience like Football Manager Classic was already possible in Football Manager, if you turned of this, tweaked that, and so on. Is Classic much different?
"Yes, it is," Jacobson declared. "It's not a case of getting your assistants to just do stuff for you. It's a case of certain modules being ripped out of the game to not have an effect on things, for example.
"We've got a different way of doing news inside the game as well," he went on. "You still have newspapers coming to you for comments, but they actually come to you with one-off comments as you're going through your emails, through your inbox - rather than doing it through press conferences.
"It's not just a case of turning things off - it's a case of designing something with a certain type of user in mind. And if you did turn all of the stuff off in FM that's off in FMC, without doing the other work that we've done on FMC, it would still take you about 15 to 20 hours to play a season, whereas in FMC you're looking at eight to 10 hours.
If you don't want to play matches in Football Manager Classic, you have your assistant take care of it. But you can pre-define some actions using a Match Plan, such as making substitutions after an hour of play if you're losing. "Before it was automated where as now it's not needed," he said. "That's a key differential."
So, you lot have a point, Jacobson said, but you're also "wrong" - "and I say that in the nicest possible way!".
"If you did turn all of the stuff off in Football Manager that's off in FM Classic - without doing the other work that we've done on FMC - it would still take you about 15 to 20 hours to play a season, whereas in FMC you're looking at eight to 10 hours."Miles Jacobson
The development and evolution of Football Manager Classic
Football Manager Classic has been made by "a few key people" from the core Football Manager team. Those people have worked on both games. Sports Interactive took a Valve approach to the project, and let anyone passionate about working on Classic to do just that.
"It's definitely the core team that have been working on it, rather than a splinter group, but different people have been doing things based on their expertise," said Jacobson, "and also based on their desire to see this game happen."
But won't Classic evolve into a hardcore game in the same way that the original Football Manager did? "Not the way that we have things planned," Jacobson assured me.
"I'm not going to start talking about our roadmap. I think it's quite well known within the industry that I work on games three years in advance, because we have so many ideas and things we want to go in there that, really, it's the only way to work. So we already have plans for the long-term for Classic. And we aren't planning on it becoming more complicated, no."
Standalone Football Manager Classic
Standalone Football Manager Classic was the original pitch to Sega, apparently, but both parties ended up agreeing that they should put it in Football Manager 2013.
"We're going to wait and see [about it being standalone in the future]," Jacobson said. "Obviously, different platforms appeal to different audiences, and it might be that some platforms come along in the future that Classic is more appropriate for than the full game, in the same way that Football Manager Handheld was more appropriate for PSP and iOS and Android than Football Manager.
"That's a decision we make over time," he stressed.
"We already have plans for the long-term for Classic. And we aren't planning on it becoming more complicated, no."Miles Jacobson
"It's certainly a key part of our stable. We've now got four Football Management games in our stable: Football Manager Handheld, Football Manager, Football Manager Classic and Football Manager Online."
Football Manager 2013 improvements
That's Football Manager Classic, the new bit. But it's the existing, hardcore bit of Football Manager 2013 that's cemented it as a best-seller series here. And Sports Interactive hasn't forgotten that - far from it. FM2013 has some 900 new features, and there are 25 video blogs (five of which are for FM Classic) announcing features that we don't know about yet.
What's Miles Jacobson's favourite new FM 2013 feature? "We haven't announced it yet. We haven't announce my personal favourite because it wasn't the personal favourite of enough other people to make it get into the new announcement," he explained.
That improved 3D match engine is "pretty special", he said, and he likes the new tax regimes that influence a player's decisions when joining rich teams in their twilight years. It's a little thing that speaks to the depth of FM, Jacobson thinks.
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