VideoGamer.com: Football Manager 09 has been out for a while now and you've probably had time to reflect on it. How do you feel about it? Did it meet your expectations?
MJ: Our expectations are pretty high, and I don't think we're ever going to make a game that meets our expectations because if we did we'd all have to give up. We are striving to make the perfect game. The media reception as a whole was incredibly strong. We were getting 8 or 9/10 reviews. We had a couple of bad reviews, some of which had some incredibly good constructive criticism in them, which we've taken on board for next year. User wise, our forums are split between angry people and very happy people, which has been the case since 1997 I think. The people that come up to me at football seem to like it. So from a personal perspective, which is the only one that I can really talk from, I'm in 2017 at the moment in the game and loving every single minute of it. So I'm happy with it. It's certainly not perfect, but what game is?
VideoGamer.com: What's your opinion on the reaction to the DRM situation with FM09?
MJ: Well, we didn't get too much negative PR for having DRM in the game, before the game was released. On the day of release we had a couple of issues. One of them was that the font that was used in the manual wasn't as clear as it could have been. The font for the code that you type in. That led to us working through the night on the Thursday night to try and come up with a solution that worked. While we were trying to roll out that solution we got hit by a denial of service attack. We then got hit by a denial of service attack on our phone lines as well. We then defeated the one denial of service attack, and then got hit by another much more clever denial of service attack. That meant that there were people out there, for three or four hours, who couldn't authenticate their game. That was completely and utterly unacceptable. We worked incredibly hard to get it back up and running for everyone, and succeeded in that. There were a few support calls but very few now on that issue. So was it good enough? No. Did it stop the game being available online, pirated, days before release as all our other games have been? Yes. But that's a tiny, tiny, tiny victory compared to the issues that people had. We did get everyone up and running on the game pretty damn quickly and people who raised customer service tickets were dealt with pretty quickly as well. I think in the 20 years that I've been working, the day of release this year, because of the issues we had with DRM, was by far and away the hardest and most disappointing day of my career.
VideoGamer.com: Is DRM the way to go in order to combat piracy? Is it an effective strategy?
MJ: Well Football Manager 2009 there isn't an actual legitimate cracked version of the game. There is a version that people are playing but we know that not everything has been removed from those versions. I don't know whether there is a proper cure for piracy without a change in society to be honest. There needs to be some kind of protection in your product otherwise retail aren't going to stock your product, so we do have to take some measures. We will investigate all avenues open to us once again for next year to see what the best solution is. What we believed we had this year was something that was going to be better for the consumer compared to the system where you had to keep the disc in the drive, which you don't have to do with our system, and be completely unobtrusive. Apart from the people who bought the game on day one, 98 per cent of people since authenticated first time without any problems whatsoever. And that's not a bad ratio even compared to the ratios you have for people whose drives couldn't register the CDs. You have disc drives out there who have issues with SecuROM and the like. So, I wish I knew what the answer was and what the solution was. I also wish that people were more honest and we didn't have to do it. Because anyone who says that they use a pirated version of the game as a demo when we already release a demo that has half a season worth of play in it... you know having eight, nine, ten hours worth of gameplay for free in a demo should mean that you shouldn't really need to pirate it to try it out. So yeah, I don't think it will ever be fixed and it is a shame because I think the price of games would go down if the issue was fixed and we'd be able to have more people working on titles.
VideoGamer.com: The general manager of Beautiful Game Studios has said Championship Manager has a 90 per cent piracy rate, which seems high.
MJ: No it sounds about right to me. To put it into perspective, there was a key code that was leaked on a Russian piracy site, as being a key code that they claimed would work with any version of the game. It doesn't work at all. It's been attempted by 338,000 unique people. So, that's just one key code. That's not including people who are playing cracked versions. So 90 per cent could actually be quite low. But I don't know what the figures are because we've got no way of tracking it. We don't believe there is a way to track fully exactly how many downloads you have. What we do know is there are countries out there where there are 30,000 members signed up and active on a local language forum and we sell 2,000 copies in that country to date. So, that 90 per cent level could be a low figure. I could pick a figure out of my arse but it wouldn't really do anyone any good. But piracy is incredibly bad!
VideoGamer.com: I wanted to put something to you that the general manager of Beautiful Game Studios said to me.
MJ: Roy's been saying a lot of stuff!
VideoGamer.com: Yeah. He said, and I quote: "One thing that FM is absolutely brilliant at, or has been traditionally brilliant at, and I think that they need to maybe look at themselves a bit on a couple of areas they've got in the game, is knowing exactly where you are within the game. Within FM I think it's just intuitive, you know where you are. I think they've lost it a bit and I'm not going to tell you where so that you don't put it in the piece and we don't create it for them." He said: ""I'd love us both to be selling millions of units because then that empowers and encourages them to improve their game. I've played their game and I want them to. I'm frustrated with FM09 and, personally from a consumer base experience, I don't believe it's as good as it could have been. I want them to be better. I want them to be innovative."
MJ: See it's quite funny because he said in another interview that he did last week that he hadn't been able to play Football Manager 2009. It's very simple, OK. If someone wants to come and give us constructive criticism about our games, come to our forums. We're there. We listen. But I don't really see why someone doing an interview to promote their game needs to talk about someone else's. I don't need to talk about anyone else's games.
VideoGamer.com: He mentioned a differentiating factor was the database of players. He said every player in Championship Manager can be signed and played, whereas in Football Manager there are a certain amount of greyed out players that are in the game but you can't do anything with. Do players see those greyed out characters and think of it as a negative or does it make no difference?
MJ: The greyed out players are there so that you're putting a youth team out and you can offer them contracts if you want to, so they become real players. They're there in your squad. Again I don't really see the point he's trying to make there. Our database is the largest, most accurate football database in the world. As far as I know it's the only video game database that's being used by a premier league club as part of their scouting network, in Everton. I have absolutely no problems with our data or our research at all. I'm incredibly proud of the work that our team have done.
VideoGamer.com: What's your number one tip for newcomers to Football Manager Live?
MJ: Don't get frustrated if you do badly at first because someone's got to lose. It's very much a game that's a marathon, not a sprint. So take your time, be patient and it will work well for you in the end.
Football Manager Live is available to download for PC now, and is due out in stores on Friday 23 January.