It's that time of year again. The transfer window is closed, fans up and down the country are spending way too many work hours obsessing over their fantasy team and your club is (probably) already in turmoil. But for many, none of that is as important as the release of a new Football Manager game. Last night, in a crowded London bar, developer Sports Interactive and publisher SEGA revealed the first details on FM 2009, due for release on November 14. After the show, where a brand new 3D match engine was unveiled, we sat down with Sports Interactive MD Miles Jacobson to quiz him on the new features and get the inside scoop on what young player you should be tapping up when the game comes out.
VideoGamer.com: When we interviewed you last year for the last game we asked you how difficult it was to innovate with a game that comes out every year. Does it get harder to justify the money fans fork out for the game?
Miles Jacobson: I think what we've announced this year shows that that's bollocks really. While yes we do work on annual cycles with 3D (match engine) we can work on it for a while and it's more than possible to have people working on stuff for longer when you're doing annual cycles and just not tell anyone you're working on them. So it's not getting harder at all. I think the stuff that we've announced tonight, there's some evolution but there's some revolution as well. Things like assistant manager feedback, particularly with the 3D match views. I think it gets harder as you get older, because a lot of our guys now have wives and kids and things like that. But, you know, we still love every minute of it, otherwise we wouldn't carry on doing it.
VideoGamer.com: We're particularly interested in how you've completely rebuilt the transfer system. How will it be different for the player?
MJ: The user will not see much difference. It will be a hell of a lot faster. Quite a few of the features that you'll see in the game will be made possible because we've rewritten what we call the shortlist manager, that controls all the transfers. They'll see a lot more transfers that make sense. They'll see more things like what you've seen this year in the transfer window; there were a lot of season long loans with views to a permanent transfer afterwards, you'll be seeing more of those in there. It's just more flexible, more efficient, and makes it easier moving forward as well as easier this year. You know that system has been in place for many many years, so it was due a shake up.
VideoGamer.com: So no console version this year. Have you got any message to your 360 fans who might feel disappointed by this?
MJ: I hope you have laptops as well! The game wasn't exactly the best-selling game on Xbox 360 ever. So while I'm sure there will be some people who are disappointed by the fact that we're not doing one, we didn't think the quality was good enough. I wouldn't want to be duping anyone into buying a game that we didn't think was good enough. At the time we finished it we thought it was. When we were sitting at home playing it, it just didn't feel right. So if we are going to go back to consoles in the future we're going to have to think about things very very hard about what to do. But for the time being we've got to concentrate on the PC game, the Mac game, the PSP game and Football Manager Live and see what happens from that.
VideoGamer.com: So that's not if for the console version?
MJ: No. I'm not saying never. I'm saying this year, definitely not. I don't know what's going to happen with 2010 yet. We need to get 2009 finished and out there and hopefully people will love it and then we'll start thinking about Football Manager 2010 from there.
VideoGamer.com: What did you think of the reviews of the last game?
MJ: I thought that any reviews that give us constructive criticism are always welcome. Any reviews that go, it's just a data update are not welcome because it means the people who wrote that about the game last year didn't take the trouble to read the features list provided, because there was over 100 new features last year. But any constructive criticism was good. Saying that, the reviews last year were really good. I think we had one bad review from a Norwegian website where the journalist just didn't like the game, and that's fair enough, you know we can't please everyone. But most of the reviews were pretty good.
VideoGamer.com: Is FM 2009 better than FM 2008 in your opinion?
MJ: I don't think we've had a year where the game hasn't been better than the last one, which might be a controversial statement because a lot of people say CM4 wasn't as good as 01/02 but the different steps in technology for me made it a better game. There are certainly some people on our forums who preferred 2006 to 2007. There seems to be a pattern. There are some people who had genuine concerns with 2008 and spoke about them incredibly eloquently on our forums and helped shape FM2009. I've been quite clear that the confidence system, there were some issues with it, they shouldn't have been there, and it's taken us a lot of time to get fixed, but we've done it. We're happy to listen to people. Same with the transfer system. We've been working on regens as well. When we get feedback we listen to it. We'd be stupid not to.
VideoGamer.com: Were you watching Sky Sports News on Monday?
MJ: What for the transfer window? How much fun was that?!
VideoGamer.com: I know! Drama!
MJ: But they add so much more drama to it than is actually there! Oh my God this player has been seen in this airport! No he hasn't. You're lying. The BBC thing is actually better than Sky Sports News, because they just get people texting in at random. My mate's dad's uncle's dog's cat's wife saw Robinho in Hull. Things like that, it's genius. Transfer window day is one of my favourite days of the year.
VideoGamer.com: Did it impact on what you're doing at all?
MJ: No. Well the Man City takeover impacted a little bit. But beyond that no, not really. The researchers that we have are used to it now. They're used to the transfer window. There's a massive rush the next few days afterwards to get all the data in, which is going on as we speak. But we'll get there.
VideoGamer.com: I remember asking you last year what young players gamers should look out for. Any tips for FM 2009?
MJ: Come back to me later in the year. Because the data isn't complete yet. So, later in the year I'll give you a few. (Leans into tape recorder) Jose Baxter. There's one for you. I'm loving Jose Baxter at the moment in the game. He's a young player at Everton. But yeah, ask me the same question in a month or so.
VideoGamer.com: Fair enough. The 3D match engine, how will it change things from a player point of view?
MJ: It won't really apart from they'll be seeing pretty shiny graphics on the screen with loads of animations. The TV view changes things more than the actual 3D match view. Before the most you could have would be the split screen mode where you get two widgets. Now you can have as much as you want on the screen and just drag it around, drop it wherever you want, take things off if you don't need them. So that's going to change things a lot for the manager. It's actually a much bigger feature than we've made out in the video, because it really changes things a lot. But the 3D looks good from camera angles, the rewind bar, people being able to rewind and watch things over and over again and from different angles each time, it's a very good system. I can't wait for people to actually be able to play it and see how much they enjoy it.
VideoGamer.com: Given the interest in taking over clubs, owning them and pumping loads of money into them, do you see a future where one of the Football Manager games allows you to be not just a manager but a club owner?
MJ: SEGA already do that with their Let's Make A Soccer Team series. It's not something that we're going to look into because being a chairman is pretty boring in our opinion. So no. We're Football Manager. That's what we're going to stick at being.
VideoGamer.com: That's great Miles, thanks for you time.
Football Manager 2009 is due out for PC and Mac on November 14. Football Manager Handheld 2009 is due out for PSP also on November 14.