With Sports Interactive's Football Manager Live about to re-launch following a complete gameworld reset, we caught up with producer Marc Duffy to find out what went wrong and what the London studio has planned to ensure history doesn't repeat itself.
Q: Firstly, how would you sum up your feelings on FM Live? It was something new for Sports Interactive, so has development and player response been as you expected?
Marc Duffy: You're right; it was certainly something new for us. We have always been excellent at delivering boxed product in the form of Football Manager each year and we've had to adapt pretty quickly to life making an MMO. Having worked here for eleven years the past 2 years have easily been some of the hardest but most fun.
On the development front, we set out from the start to try and deliver content every 3-4 months and this at times has proved to be challenging but we did manage it.
We've always been a developer that works closely with our community and never more so than with FML. This has meant that we've had to balance what the hardcore users that patrol our forums want against what is good for the game and what some of the more casual players desire.
Q: Can you give us a recap on what's been happening with FM Live? What were the problems you ran into that lead to the imminent gameworld reset?
MD: The process prior to announcing a reset was that we carried out an internal post mortem and looked at the things that had worked and the things that hadn't. We challenged ourselves to understand the mistakes we had made, why we made them and how we could improve things in the future. The overriding consensus once we'd gone through this was that we had to look at doing a full reset.
With hindsight being such a wonderful thing, we learnt that one of our fundamental mistakes was making so many large gameplay and financial changes so early in the life of the game. It almost made some of the initial gameworlds impossible places to do well in, especially for new managers. The rankings pages were filled up with managers who had been there from day 1, who had so much wealth, that there was never any chance of them being caught or ever getting into any kind of financial strife – there was simply no movement in power within a gameworld and that just wasn't how Oliver Collyer and the team had planned the game.
Resetting wasn't the only way to solve the issues, we also had to make several structural and gameplay changes and along with a FML focus group that we ran in London we were able to discuss our plans.
Structure wise we've added a new ‘regen' type of gameworld and this is where the names of the players are not the real ones – all managers get the choice of gameworld type to join.
Gameplay wise we created a concept in the real player named gameworlds of returning stars. We've amended the way in which our skills system work as well as making life as a manager a lot tougher when you're at the top.
Q: Why wasn't it possible to allow players to retain their teams with some form of gameworld merger?
MD: It's something we looked at very closely and it's certainly not impossible, however, the biggest factor was that in FML players were unique. There is only ever one Wayne Rooney.
If we had a scenario where two teams that got merged into the same gameworld both had a particular player we'd get into big issues as much of our database design and architecture centres around this.