Miles Jacobson is a good talker. He knows how to sell you his game and always comes across as a man who genuinely cares about the Football Manager series his Sports Interactive studio created. We caught up with him to talk about how development is going on this year's game, the future of the series on consoles and if the online version of the game has a future.
Q: It must be hard to continually think up new ideas for such a long running franchise. Where do you guys source new ideas from?
Miles Jacobson: It's actually the key point of what we're doing here - we've changed the way we work as a studio. The ideas used to be just from us internally, we'd do whatever we wanted to do with the ideas that came through. We don't have any designers at SI, so we all get involved in the design process. Last year, when we announced FM 10, we said there would be less new features this year as we were going to concentrate on polishing the game. We've grown a lot as a studio, there are nearly 70 of us now, we've been used to much smaller teams than that - so we've had to get more organised. I went through our entire Test Track bugs database (DB), and found that we had about 800-900 feature ideas in that DB. So we move those across to a separate database. We then put all of our own ideas into that separate database. We collated all the ideas that came through from different people at SEGA - those internally who worked on the database. We started talking to people who play the game, like mates of mine - what they wanted to see in the game. Those all went into the features database. Then we sat down at the beginning of the year and spent three weeks, all whole days, just going through every single idea that was in the DB. As a team, everybody in the studio was invited to those meetings.
Q: QA as well?
MJ: QA, Office Manager, me, producers, devs - everybody was invited. You'd go to whatever meeting you wanted to, and everybody had a vote on every feature. So we went through every single feature and had votes out of five - for everyone - and lead to a percentage score which became a priority for being in the game. I then sat down after that meeting and went through absolutely everything, and effectively came up with feature sets for the next three years. Then on top of that, we've had other ideas come in during the year, which we'll then sit down and go through. I'll then move things around from different games to different games. We're now trying to concentrate on - if we're doing features then they're new - there'll be some of those each year, but a lot of things we'll be doing is revamping areas.
So, you know, a lot of the announcements we've made are that we've revamped this, we've changed that - because times change, and technology changes, and our skills change, so we're able to improve a lot of things. We'll be looking at each area and working out where the priorities are that need to be changed, and then take sections, so, as an example, press conferences. Press conferences are alright, but they get a bit boring for people. Now, in the real world, I can guarantee that today, I will be asked one question by every single journalist. It happens. And I try and be enthusiastic every time I'm asked it, but it gets a bit dull - we've had to get variation in there, we've had to make sure the answers are relevant to the situation, because that's the feedback we've been getting - "this question doesn't actually relate to the situation I'm in". So we've spent a lot of time revamping as well as adding new stuff, but certainly for the next three, four, five years, we know we've got enough stuff. And there's more new features this year than ever before, and we're going to be trying to keep this weight of new stuff up as well.
Q: OK, so of the new stuff that's in there this year - what features are you, personally, most proud of?
MJ: My favourite thing I'm not allowed to announce yet because legal haven't signed it off! [laughs] That'll be in the next few weeks. But other than that, the feature set this year - there'll be different things for different people depending on how they play the game. When I play the game I'm a wheeler dealer. I'm a Harry Redknapp type. I buy and sell players, so the agent side of things which I was heavily involved with, talking to agents, getting a lot of new contract clauses off them - that's the area that I love. The player interaction, as well, is much better this year, it's still not perfect, but it's much better. So when a player is unhappy, you can actually get to the bottom of the reason why, and try to make him happy again. So from a personal point of view, that's my big thing.
There are other people in the studio who just love the match engine. If you were to look at the 3D view from FM2009 next to FM2011 - there's such massive changes. The kind of improvements you'd expect an action game to take five years with, we've done in two. So we'll be continuing on that path as well, to really improve that area.
Dynamic league reputation - I play career games. Now, historically I'll play as Watford, because that's the team I support and I love. And I know that the English leagues are pretty strong. So if a team does do well, I'm going to be able to attract better players. But with dynamic league reputation, those people who start off with Northern Ireland, or Denmark or Sweden - as their team start getting better, as they improve, the league will start getting better. You'll be able to attract better players to it. It's something that we've seen happening a lot over the last couple of years, in particular Turkish football, German football and French football as well. It's not just about signing new players, it's about the players you're able to hold onto as well. There 's kind of something for everyone this year, that's kind of the plan. For me, the contract negotiation stuff is awesome.