Can we call it 'FootMan'?
On the day Football Manager 2005 went Gold, we strolled down to Islington to grab an exclusive in-depth interview with Sport Interactive MD Miles Jacobson. Read the full interview here, or download the video via Eurofiles...
Ever since the early 90s, Sports Interactive has been king of the football management genre by a huge margin. Their recent decision to sign up with SEGA to publish their game may have forced them to change the name to Football Manager, but such is the profile of Sports Interactive that there's a sense that a change of brand name won't affect them in the slightest. Indeed, managing director Miles Jacobson has every confidence that Football Manager 2005 will perform as well as the last Championship Manager title did - and that was before Eidos announced that CM5 may slip into next year. Competitive instinct is what management is all about, and Jacobson thrives on the battle as this extensive interview illustrates. Download the video from Eurofiles now - details and links here. Or, simply read on, as he admits he's "bricking himself" about the potential piracy, how console versions are very much on the radar, possibilities for online play, his thoughts on the next engine revision and even his love for Pro Evo...
It is. Well, it's finished in certain languages. The release process means that we're releasing in Europe first, and then Eastern Europe comes a couple of weeks later, as does Hong Kong, Singapore, China, Japan.
They'll all be out before the end of the year, definitely. The majority are being released on November 5th. We're still waiting for dates on Czech and Poland, but certainly most European SKUs will be November 5th or Monday 8th, depending on what date games get released in certain countries.
We settled on 30 players because that's how many SEGA said we could support for the network game. We've actually never supported a network game before, officially, in any of our games, but we always have done on our site. The 30 is just the figure that SEGA managed to have playing it online without any problems, really. We've had more than that playing online in the office, so you can have more than that, but to have your publisher prepared to offer technical support for up to 30 players is pretty damned good.
Basically you set up the games yourself, effectively. Somebody has an IP address, and gives that out, arranges the time that people are going to go in and play or just leaves the server on. We've put various features in there to make it easier to continue while you're actually playing the game, because while we were playing the network game in the office, we all play it in different ways, and I was getting very frustrated with the people who are 'tactic whores', if you like. I'm a transfer whore, so I spend all my time trying to buy new players.
We've basically got a continue thing, and it's completely configurable yourself, so you can have it on 10 per cent, 20 per cent up to 100 per cent of the players have to have pressed Continue by a certain amount of time, or else it auto times out and forces people to continue.
Yes, there's a timer in the top left corner. The time set is configurable, the percentage of people that would have had to have continued is configurable, and where the timer is is configurable because the whole game is completely skinnable.
In theory? A couple of hundred. In theory it's 255 I think it would be, but I'd like to see someone try more and see what happens. You know, it shouldn't break, it'll just slow down quite a bit I'd expect, because of the amount of data you'd have to process.
That's definitely the plan, yes, and what we're going to try and do is have it that there is a set week that we'll be releasing. We haven't decided what that week is, and it will be different to the release week this year, possibly a week earlier or a couple of weeks earlier, slightly into October.
We won't ever release when a new season kicks off, because there's too much stuff that happens at the beginning of the season that we have to monitor; transfer movements. The transfer deadline coming in was fantastic for us, because it means come September 1st, with the majority of leagues around the world, not with the Coca Cola leagues, but the majority of leagues actually do have transfer deadlines and we can really get testing everything then.
We did pretty well on the Xbox versions compared to how we thought we were going to do, so we were very happy with the Xbox versions of our previous titles, but there's a very big gulf between the CM3 engine and the Football Manager engine, a massive gulf, so at the moment there isn't a console that can handle our game. Whether that changes in the future, then please God, we'd love for that to happen.
It's not necessarily the hard disk - it's more the RAM and the processor.
There are ways... [Shifts in seat, grins.] I'm not going to go into detail. No I'm not, because we do have a research and development department at Sports Interactive now, who are looking into new platforms and stuff like that, and if they have come up with clever ways to sort it out, then I'm certainly not going to let our competitors know what those clever ways are!
We don't even know if the Xbox 2 has a hard disk yet, I don't, nobody does, so when we find out, we'll know. There's so much speculation going on about all of the consoles - it's the nature of the beast in this industry that people seem to care more about news about stuff that going to happen in a year or two years time than care about stuff that's happening in a week or two week's time. So, until we've actually got hard, fast specs then we can't really decide which of the consoles we're going to look at. But, we are definitely going to look at them in the future. But PC and Mac will continue to be our core platforms.
No, we didn't actually. We didn't. No, we did look into it, and we had design documents done, but it wasn't going to be very good, so we decided against it.
As I've said before, we've got a research and development department that are looking into all future platforms, so who knows what might happen. At the moment they're sitting there researching and developing, and when they find a platform that they want to work with, those teams will then split off and start working on those games. We're certainly not being pedestrian about it, and we're not being PC snobs or anything like that. We are looking at everything that's available to us because we want to be able to entertain as many people with our games as possible.
No. SEGA know that there's no way that we'd want to develop anything out of house. We've done that before and it was just not good enough, so that is one way in that we are incredibly precious. If we're going to do these things, we're going to do them ourselves.
We weren't resistant to a console version of Champ Manager; we did one on the Xbox...
Uh-huh. Our games can't be made on PS2.
We decided not to do that. We decided we didn't want to go down that route. If other people want to go down that route there are lots of management games on PS2 already. Good luck to 'em! If they make a great game... Every time I'm asked about the Eidos situation I keep saying the same thing: If they make a great game then they deserve every little bit of success that they get. We've still got a lot of friends that work at Eidos, and we do wish BGS [Beautiful Game Studios] and Gusto well with what they're doing.
I haven't seen CM5, so how can I comment? I've no idea what the game's like. I would like to think that we live in a world where the quality of the game is important, and if they release a great game then I'm sure it will do well. If they don't then they probably won't. But we have our sales targets of what we want to do, and it looks like we're going to be shipping above what we were expecting to ship in the first year on a global level.
We're shipping similar numbers [smiles]. You'd have to ask SEGA what the exact numbers are.
Yes, definitely. The game's fantastic, and obviously I would say that because I'm sitting here, but I don't develop the thing myself. We've got a brilliant team of people who work on the game. I'm going home despite the fact that we've gone through the whole gold master process and all the late nights and I'm absolutely shattered, I'm still going home every night this week and playing the game. We went into gold master candidate on Monday afternoon where we deliver the disks to see whether we're going to be able to into manufacture, and we've passed a couple, and we're expecting another couple to be passed this afternoon, at which point we'll release a gold demo of the game; once we've got four SKU approvals we'll release the demo. The demo's likely to be this afternoon, which is Friday 15th [October]. So, we're actually hopeful of three o'clock today is the plan, because I'll hear back from Germany in the next couple of hours whether the Scandinavian and what's known as the PFIG (Portugal, France, Italy, Germany) SKU have gone gold as well.
Yeah, but with the financial gulf that there is in the football world at the moment I think it's harder all round.
As Watford, yes, I am because of the financial situation. I can't... being someone who loves to do the transfers in the game I've got to go and find players on frees and five grand, but because the values have dropped it's easier to get players from smaller clubs cheaper because everyone's just scrabbling around for cash, but while we were beta testing I was playing as Chelsea, and I found it quite easy because I could just go and sign anyone. With Chelsea having a sugar daddy like Abramovich, who just keeps ploughing money in, it's actually quite funny when all of a sudden Abramovich decides that you're not doing very well so he gives you another £50 million to go out and spend. It can be quite amusing to just go 'Oh, okay, today I'm going to go out and buy David Beckham,' and you just bring someone else into your squad. The skill level completely depends on what team you decide to play as, and with the amount of teams that there are in the game there's thousands of skill levels.
Well, we released the beta demo to the fan base at the end of September, and that was deliberately to try and ensure that we'd got rid of as many bugs as possible.
It highlighted a lot, but the ones that it did, 90 per cent of them were already fixed by the time it came out. I can't sit here and turn round and say that there aren't any bugs in the game whatsoever, because I'd be lying. I haven't seen any myself, but with the game the size that it is, there will be small niggling problems that people will find, and when they're reported to us on our boards we'll go away and fix them and patch the game. It kind of hurts in a way that we're criticised for doing five patches on our last game - I can understand why because obviously people would rather that stuff was fixed before it comes out - but we have a huge army of testers and we can't find everything. We don't deliberately ship the game with bugs that we know of, but as soon as we do find them, we do fix them, and at least we're actually prepared to do as many patches as are needed. There were a couple of issues with 03/04 that our users were complaining about after the fifth patch which we didn't really see those issues as bugs, we saw them as things that happen. Certainly playing it at the moment it seems to be the game with the least amount of bugs we've ever released.
Because it's an engine we're used to using. We've used the actual core engine in the last couple of games because if you own the code you may as well re-use the majority of it so people are used to it. Everyone in the team has worked so hard in the last year; we've all been so determined to ensure that this is the best game we've ever released because it is a new beginning for us, what with a new publisher, working with a new brand, a completely new look and feel to the game as well. It's much more of an RPG feel because of the manager mind games side of things, so we wanted to make sure that everything worked very well, and thankfully we've managed to do that in the time that we'd set ourselves to release.
I believe that the game is actually coming out earlier than most people were expecting, because we were saying it was a Christmas release, and we were quite clear. SEGA would have loved the game to have been released in September, and we've been telling people December, and we sat down a few months ago and did a review of the code between ourselves and SEGA and were just like 'you know what? I think we're going to hit the beginning of November,' and kept that quiet until we knew we were, and even when we announced the date of November 5th, people still didn't believe we were going to hit the date, and the fact is that we are.
We're not planning at the moment to change the engine at all. It's going to be a process of evolution because we believe that we've got the best engine that there is, and we certainly think it's the most accurate representation of football. The hardware is not in a position yet where we could even conceive of doing a 3D engine for a game as complicated as ours. A lot of management games on the market, the time splices are taken every nine seconds, which is why you get score lines of 3-1 and 4-1 when you're playing ten minute matches, rather than smaller score lines, and why you get very high score lines when you play 90 minutes. With our game, the time splices are done every eighth of a second, so that's how much more powerful our engine is compared to others. For the time being I think we've got a great engine. There's a lot more to be done with the player-preferred moves, which is a new thing for Football Manager, that no-one's really had before.
The Player Preferred Moves are things like, you know, if you go and watch Thierry Henry regularly he likes getting the ball on the left and cutting in across the middle, so if you play him in that position for Arsenal he's going to play better and you'll see him do that. Ronaldo likes doing stepovers - you'll see him doing that. Paul Scholes likes running into the box late, you'll see that kind of stuff happen.
No! He normally does well when he comes into the box late and taps it in after a knock back from the keeper. We've got a lot of room to manoeuvre on that stuff, even down to where players like to curl the ball or place the ball when they're shooting, and there are 48 of those in at the moment, and there's a lot more we want to add in for future versions.
Manager Mind Games is a lot of fun. It's one of those things that isn't an integral part of the game; you can ignore Manager Mind Games if you want and just not do it at all, but if you want to set up your personality and really get into the mindset of being the manager... then this is the RPG element. You can basically set yourself up to be an arrogant manager or a completely laid back manager, and you'll attract different kinds of players depending on your different personality, and different players will react accordingly.
Yes, so it gives you a chance to define you personality in the game. It's a very good starting position that we've got with Manager Mind Games. With all brand new features that we add into our games, we kind of add them in to try them out initially. It's the same with the Agent video side of things. A few months ago there were Agent videos coming through every week and it was just wrong, you just start ignoring them completely so they're quite rare in a 'trailer in Lunar Jetman' kind of way rare, so you get quite excited when you see them. Manager Mind Games is down to you to decide how you deal with it.
[Conversation descends into discussion on whether trailers in Lunar Jetman were a myth or not...]
I haven't played them yet.
I play them each year, I try them out.
[Total Club Manager] is getting better but is still too FIFA-esque to me; I think they do a brilliant job for the market that they're going for, which I believe is different to our market. LMA, the last version didn't really turn me on, I played it for about 15 minutes. Premier Manager? I like the Game Boy version; that's good fun, I haven't played the other versions. But as I said to you earlier, LMA and Total Club have both come out today and I will be going out and buying them later. But I was a massive fan of Sports Interactive's before I was working here. I've been a massive fan, I helped them out for five or six years for free, just because I was a fan of the game and wanted to help make them better. And all the way through that time I wasn't really playing other games either, so I'm the original SI fanboy, so of course I'm going to prefer the Sports Interactive titles to others, and I am completely biased and I make no bones about that. But I've heard from journos that Total Club has improved quite a lot this year, so we'll see.
BitTorrent is a technology that we've embraced, both ourselves and through Eurofiles. We've tried to provide as many of our demos and videos as possible for you guys to use on Eurofiles and we've had BitTorrents ourselves, so we think the technology is fantastic. The use of that technology at the moment is not fantastic at all. To be honest, with Halo 2 leaking, I'm absolutely bricking myself that we're going to be cracked before release. We're using a different kind of copy protection, or different kinds of copy protection to what we usually use, and they're giving us assurances that it won't be cracked before release, but finishing a game... Normally when we deliver a game we deliver it literally 'if we don't get it to the manufacturing plant in half an hour it won't meet the release date', whereas this year it's been relatively relaxed.
Yeah, it does, which is one of the reasons I'm worried about it. We've been very protective of our review code, as I'm sure you know, having got some review code late last night, but we've been quite careful about how we've gone about things this year. If it does get cracked before release there's very little we can do about it apart from finding out who it was and me going round there with a baseball bat, and that probably won't do anyone any good. It is a real shame that when we release demos so far up front that are long term demos that people really will be able to decide whether they want to buy the game or not afterwards, that people still go out there and pirate it. I can kind of understand it if people can't be bothered to release demos if people download it to try it before they buy it. I can kind of understand that.
The beta version we had 175,000 downloads from our site, plus there were other mirrors, so there's probably 4-500,000 people I guess have got the beta demo. I would expect the Gold demo - because it will be spread a lot further - will probably be closer to a million, and we won't sell that many games. It's quite depressing for us to know, and studies have been done on this on our behalf, and apparently there are six million people playing each iteration of our game across the world, and none of our titles have ever yet sold a million at full price. And there's the age-old argument that if the games were cheaper I'd go out and buy them, but it really is a chicken and egg situation. If piracy was less, I'd quite gladly put them out cheaper.
Yes, the games do well at budget. They do really well. The £9.99 versions do well and the £4.99 versions do well. I would like nothing more than to be able to release games at £20, £25, but with the situation it is with piracy at the moment, if we tried to do that, we wouldn't exist next year. I know people out there think that software developers are all minted and they all drive Ferraris or Porsches and live in mansions - we don't. We've got 35 members of staff here, which is a lot of mouths to feed. We've also got two and a half thousand people working on the data and research and the translation. The company does not make a big profit, the directors have not taken a bonus out of the company since I've been here, which is a large number of years. We get decent salaries, we all do okay, but we entertain a lot of people so we should do, but...
When I first became less than a free employee, which was five or six years ago now, there were seven members of staff, so it's gone up a lot.
Well, we've got the hockey team, which is a very small team, it's only four people. The baseball team, again, is four people, our R&D department, the FM team has grown considerably to make the game as big as it is. We really needed the extra staff working on it, but it's still a very tight knit core team, plus we need to have a couple of accounts guys, plus myself doing the business side and the marketing side of things, and PR as well, Marc Duffy doing the website and community. We've got a test team now - we never had a test team before, and we've got 24 part time testers as well, who - I say 'part-time', but they've been in the last six months on the Football side of things, and there's still a couple of guys left on the Hockey test team. It was important for the company to grow, but we've grown organically, and I'd much rather take on a couple of members of staff than buy a new car.
Pro Evo. Because I haven't played the new FIFA yet and because I like to look cool! We've always been big fans of Konami's games - we used to provide data for them for free for their games because we got sick of seeing Stefan Iversen being down as a right-winger! Pro Evo's just a great game.
[Conversation tails off into a FIFA Vs Pro Evo discussion... download the video for the full rant!]
Football Manager 2005 is released on PC and Mac on November 5th. You can download various flavours of a six month long demo on Eurofiles. Full details and more on the game here.