Wives and girlfriends across the nation will have been universal in their disappointment of seeing the football season back for another year, but if they thought the football love-in was going to end there, Sports Interactive have now officially announced the first details of Football Manager 2012.
The footie managment sim returns with around 800 new features ready to test whether you really have the Fergie touch, or the meticulous tactical nous of an Andre Villa Boas. One of the men responsible for laying the foundations for a generation of football supporters living out a dream so far withdrawn from the dilapidated terraces on a Saturday afternoon is Miles Jacobson, Studio Director at Sports Interactive.
We grabbed some time with Miles to find out about what's in store for the latest Football Manager instalment, making the perfect game for everyone and being slapped with a handbag amongst other things.
So Miles, What features should Football Manager fans be looking forward to in the new game?
Everyone plays FM differently and the kind of mantra that gets used is that one person's big feature is another man’s small feature. For the hardcore fans, the ones that play the long career games I'd say the fact that they are now going to be able to add and take away leagues longer into the many seasons that they play that seems to be going down really well with the guys in our forums. It essentially means that if you’ve been managing a career game in England, and you decide you fancy a change eight or nine seasons in and you want to manage in Spain or Italy or France, you can add those leagues in, into the game at that point. They’ll become active in the next season, then you can get a job in France, Spain or Italy or Chile or Peru or wherever you want to play and then just turn the other leagues off. It just opens up extra opportunities for those playing long term.
How about yourself, do you have a personal favourite new feature in FM 2012?
My favourite feature is actually something at the moment which sounds really small but it’s had a massive effect and that’s the contract locks that we’ve got for contract negotiations. So if I am managing Watford like I do inside the game and I want to sign a new player and I’ve got a wage cap of £5,000 a week and the player wants £7,000 say, I can turn round and just by clicking one lock button I can lock in that I will not offer more than £5,000. The agent will decide if he still wants to carry on with negotiations and he might ask for some extra clauses. He might turn around and say you’ve got to pay the player for getting in the team of the year at the end of the season, or I want a shorter contract extension if my player plays a certain amount of games or a minimum fee release clause if another club comes in for him.
The negotiation just carries on knowing that you’ve locked that. For me that makes a massive difference when I am negotiating with players. Being able to put across that part of my personality across and personality is actually the key word for this game because having the tone system in there for when you’re interacting with players and when you’re doing team talks is important. There’s actually six tones that you can use that really puts your personality into the game more, because different people are going to use that system in different ways. Some people will be passive, some people will be aggressive. Some people will be calm and having those different situations means the players react using a similar system. So a calmer manager will react better to a calmer manager.
Tech-wise the adaptive layout is also pretty special. Being able to set the resolution that you’re playing in and being able to adjust the skin accordingly to fit more information into the games is great. If some people do play at a higher res they do have the advantage that they do see a ridiculous amount of extra money that they spent on a stupidly high res monitor. You now have the benefit of that rather than just being able to look at the internet on a bigger screen.
Is it difficult to get the balance of putting in so much detail without being at the expense of usability?
We actually work with a usability company called Flow interactive which are based pretty near us. They are based in Clerkenwell so it’s just up the road from our studio. We go up there at least once a year with what we are working on and people will sit there and play the game whilst we are watching them behind frosted glass much like a police line-up. I normally try to make the person inside the room from Flow laugh by asking about biscuits and other such nonsense through the two way link that we’ve got.
But it’s fascinating watching people play the game and we’ve learnt a lot about interface design through that which is something. Primarily we want to make games right? But there is no point in making a game where people can’t find the options that they’ve got to be able to use. Even doing something like a heat map where a person's eyes are moving looking at the screen trying to find things actually helps with button placement. It is something that we do take very very seriously.
One of the big debates we’ve got going on in the studio is some improvements to the user interface. We’ve changed a few things around in the interface and people are struggling to find them so for this year we are probably going to have an interim solution where people new to the game will be able to find things very easily which is the point of some of the changes that we’ve made. But people who have been playing the games for years who are struggling to find options there will be a halfway house option to ease them into the new configuration. We take it incredibly seriously.
How important is the feedback you get from forums and the likes of Twitter and Facebook to making important changes to the game?
Anyone who sends a feature request through Twitter gets asked to put it on our forums because I am rubbish and therefore lose it. Where as if it’s on our forums, we have someone, his name is Neil Brock, and a large part of his job is getting ideas from the forum and putting them into the features database for the meetings that we have each year.
But it’s not just forums and Twitter there’s also Facebook, there’s a bunch of sites that are a affiliated to us, fans sites about the game have great ideas but ideas can come from people in the pub. I can hear someone in the pub having a conversation about the game after a game of football and thinking yeah, that’s good. Let’s nab that one as well. So the ideas come from anyone and everywhere and shape the game.
Can we expect to see a new version of Football Manager Handheld?
There will be another version of Football Manager Handheld for the Apple devices we support. That will be announced in a few months down the line. That market reacts so much quicker than the PC and Mac market so we may leave that a little bit longer.
We treat both of the games as separate games because Football Manager Handheld was designed specifically for handheld play so the features we announce for FM, don’t expect to be seeing them in FMH. It’s dealt with as a separate game. There is almost one big feature that will be no where near our Mac and PC game. Something that we are doing specifically for the game that won’t be in the Mac and PC game. There will be exclusive features for both.
Is an Android version of Fooball Manager Handheld still something you'd like to do?
Well there’s a problem with the Android platform at the moment. I’d love to be on Android but the market has historically been so fragmented. I actually saw some interesting stats last week that at long lost the latest versions of the OS are now showing at least 50% of penetration which is something that wasn’t the case three or four months ago.
So we’ll continue looking at it, but there is so many different types of phones you have to support and then you can only support certain versions of OS. Apple have made it so easy at the moment. But with both Windows Phone 7 and Android it’s so difficult. So we’ll continue to monitor it. There’s no firm plans at the moment but if get to a time when the market fragmentation starts sorting itself out and maybe we’ve got a more fixed screen size even a more fixed resolution at least. It is certainly something that we want to look at put it that way.
OnLive is big gaming news at the moment, what do you make of it? Could we see Football Manager 2012 on the service in time for its UK launch?
We actually had a demo of it in the office the other week. I was seriously impressed by the demo. It’s something that I kind of ignored a little bit in the past, thinking it will never work, but it really does. I’m not someone who plays first person shooter games so I don’t know if the story of there being a 2 millisecond lag when you’re playing FPS games makes a difference or not or whether it’s true, but I’ve played racing games on it and they were great, I’ve played Arkham Asylum on it and that was great and I’ve played a few other games and they were great too. So I think it is something we are definitely going to watch.
A lot of it is going to depend on broadband speeds in the UK because you really do need a 5 meg link and I am lucky. I live in an Infinity area. I think if BT really get behind it and give it a decent push, it’s definitely got a chance.
Have you ever thought about trying your hand at another sports management game?
We did baseball and we did ice hockey. Baseball is actually our highest rated game of all time and I believe the second highest rated PC game of all time. So people out there must have liked it, but no one bought them. So we stopped working on them. We made the decision after making an average 94% review score for Out of the Park Baseball and it not achieving the market rate it needed to, we decided to concentrate just on football.
We know football better than anything so that’s we are going to stick to. With the PSP and iPhone game, we have shown what we want to do longer term which is try to expand the market for football management games and getting more people playing games by making them so that more people want to play. Everyone plays the game in a different way and sometimes we have to adapt the way that we want people to play the game.
What gives you most the most pleasure working on Football Manager?
Waking up everyday wanting to work. Going to bed thinking about work. Some people would see that as negative thing but I have misused the ‘w’ word, the work word. It doesn’t feel like work most of the time. We were a bunch of kids making computer games and we have happened to have grown up doing it and aren’t kids anymore. I am really lucky, I’ve got a great team I work with and we all work closely together, we all have our roles in the setup. I get to entertain millions of people a year and still go to Sainsbury’s without anyone even noticing who I am
So you’ve not been spotted yet?
I have a few times but thankfully very rarely. The only times it gets bad is when I am spotted by the girlfriend of someone who plays Football Manager a lot and I get a slap with a handbag or something. That’s never good, but that’s very rare.