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"We tell Sega what our release dates are"

The boss of Football Manager speaks out on the health of the series.

Football Manager comes out every year and it's great and it sells well. It's been the de facto 'pretend to be a football manager' game for years. Bit complicated, eats up the hours, but it's loved. Except last year Football Manager 2015 seemed to stumble.

"A game whose main improvements are all disappointments", we wrote in our review. Lack of polish, lack of magic, six out of 10 - back when we did scores. But Football Manager doesn't get scores like that! It looked like the series' most significant misstep in years.

"FM15?" responded Miles Jacobson, studio director at game developer Sports Interactive, when I asked him about it. "It's sold better than FM14."

It has; I was told FM13 is the best-selling entry, followed by FM15 and then FM14 - placings that include FM Handheld sales.

But was FM15 a misstep? "No I don't think so at all."

When's FM16 out?

"If you look at the press reviews and the Metacritic... we are a few per cent down from FM14. But if you look at other games that were coming out at the same time that were part of a series, and look at their Metacritics and compare them to previous years, they're down way way lower."

(For what it's worth, FM15 has a Metacritic average of 80 per cent, FM14 85 per cent and FM13 86 per cent.)

"There have been changes amongst journalists and the way games are reviewed, and they do seem to be a bit harsher," he added. "I don't think that's a bad thing."

Nevertheless, Jacobson accepted that "FM15 could have been a bit more polished at launch". "And of course I'm never happy if a game comes out with issues at launch," he went on, "and that's something as a studio we have to get better at.

"We change our production practices every year and we've made some more changes this year to try and ensure we have a game that requires fewer patches, because people should be getting a great game on the day of release and not be waiting for patches afterwards, which seems to have become the norm in the industry now."

He's not sure.

Another reason returning players may have struggled with FM15 was because a number of familiar old systems changed, said Jacobson. "There were changes with extra roles, lots of changes with the match engine, which destroyed some of the more cheaty tactics, if you like. It is a harder game," he said, "and people are finding it harder."

The thing that really gets people's goats - the thing he gets people "really shouting and swearing" at him on Twitter about - are injuries. People complain about how many of their players are laid up and how that wouldn't happen in real-life. "Then I point them to the real-life stats," he said, "and this is one of the first weeks of the season where there hasn't been a team in the Premier League with more than 10 players out injured."

Sports Interactive has a lot on its plate. It has the core, annual Football Manager series (FM16 is expected in time for Christmas); it now has Football Manager Classic for tablets; it has Football Manager Online in Korea; it has Eastside Hockey Manager trying out Early Access on Steam; and it still has Football Manager Handheld as well.

It's easy to look at all that, and look at some of the issues surrounding FM15 at launch, and wonder whether Sports Interactive has a bit too much on its plate.

"Eight years ago there were 35 people in this studio; there are currently 106 people in this studio, and we're still hiring," responded Jacobson. "There is nothing that happens inside the studio that affects the other projects - I won't let that happen.

"If people are thinking like that then really the cynicism in society is getting far too much, because why would we go and do stuff that was going to kill our main project or make it worse? Football Manager is what we're known for.

He's still searching for an answer.

"I'd like to think that we would only do things if we had the capacity and the skill to do them well."

"It's nothing," he clarified, "to do with pressure from [parent company] Sega. We set our release dates and we tell Sega what our release dates are, and we put lots of pressure on ourselves."

Yes there were "limited" lay-offs at Sega of Europe earlier this year, but Sports Interactive is currently hiring, Jacobson said.

"We haven't laid anyone off. The changes were on a publishing level. It's absolutely 100 per cent business as usual, and if there is extra pressure on Sega, we're not feeling it here."

So, if fans of the Football Manager series do find themselves not liking a recent instalment, perhaps their tastes have changed, he shrugs. His do. Or maybe the series went in a direction they don't like. It's no indication at all that SI has lost its way.

"As long as there are people out there buying our games to give us the ability to carry on making them, then that's awesome, because I don't really want to go and get a proper job. But we can't keep all people happy all of the time."