PC Gamer: With regards to that, to players believing you if you make a promise. Is that based on you've done in the past, say you've made a promise and then reneged on it?
That definitely gets taken into account. The personality between you and the player, I mean everything you do inside Football Manager can have a short term and a long term effect, it is remembered, you do build up your profile and your stats over time and that will affect whether players will join you or not. For example, if you choose your favourite team as being Tottenham, it's less likely that players whose favourite clubs are Arsenal are going to join you.
PC Gamer: Unless they're Sol Campbell.
Well, Arsenal weren't his favourite team, Tottenham wasn't his favourite team, well I don't know if Sol Campbell even likes football, you'd have to ask him.
PC Gamer: Are there any features that you've dialled back this year, anything that you felt didn't work quite as well?
We haven't pulled anything from previous games, we've improved a lot. There are certain things that haven't been announced yet that have been improved based on feedback that we're getting from the customers. We always look at everything that the customers are saying before our feature meetings, and look at areas that we need to improve. It's on a priority basis: what's essential, what a couple of people don't like, but overall most people actually like the things we have in our game.
PC Gamer: Are there any features you were thinking of doing but decided against?
Yes. In front of me here I have a feature database of over a thousand things that are approved to be in a Football Manager game at some point that when we were scheduling FM '11 couldn't be done. Some of those are scheduled for FM '12, some of those are scheduled for FM '13, some of them are scheduled with a little thing that just says “FM”, which means they're smaller things that any of the programming team can do if they want a break from doing a main feature.
Part of having a year to polish the game was actually to get more organised as a studio and get used to the fact that there's now 60 plus of us rather than 20 of us: that's the reason why we've got so many new features this year. It's amazing what fixing a bunch of bugs actually does. Not only does it mean that people can start working on new features earlier, but it also means they've got less bugs to fix at the end. There were a thousand things at the feature meeting last year that didn't make it into the game and since then there have been another 250 to 300 additions that have come from the forums and our own ideas of things that we want to see. We'll have feature meetings to discuss those at the end of the year and then schedule them appropriately. There are already things that are scheduled for FM '12 that I know I'm going to end up moving to a future game because there are ideas that make more sense at this stage waiting to be scheduled.
When we have our feature meetings we sit down as a team, and if anyone wants to have a say on a feature they get a vote, and then we look at the percentages to work out the priorities. There was one feature in this year's feature meeting that got 167% because people are allowed to play a joker once a day which doubles their score, but that wasn't something that that was going to be appropriate for this year's game. That's now been scheduled and that will either be in FM '12 or FM '13. We 're taking a very long term approach now.
PC Gamer: You say that you take a lot from the forums. What percentage of features would you say are taken from suggestions on the forums?
I would have been able to tell you this previously but I can't this year because what we've deliberately done is wiped any reference to who added in a feature request, so everything is treated equally. I don't care if it comes from me, whether it comes from our office manager, whether it comes from one of our QA guys, whether it comes from a tester or whether its come from a conversation overheard in the pub, if it's a great idea it's a great idea.
Obviously the design side of things afterwards take a lot of ideas and turn them into a cohesive module and that's obviously a very important thing to do, but we don't have any designers at SI. Everyone gets involved with that process, which is brilliant in some ways and not great in others. I constantly get told by games designer friends of mine that we desperately need a games designer, sometimes when they're out of work and sometimes when they're not. I fully understand the value that they bring to the table but we have our own little way of working and we like it.
PC Gamer: How much play testing does it take to get a new version of FM out?
We have nine lead QA guys now at SI, all of whom are assigned a particular part of a game. They're actually part of the direct team, so they go to all of the team meetings for those areas. We've also got out beta test team who work on the match engine for the whole year and will be starting beta testing properly with everything now that we're announced next week, so there's around 100 odd people on there, then we've got another 20 to 30 testers here, and when preview code goes out we love it when journalistss give us reports of things that they find. Plus everyone here plays the game as well, and Sega's QA team play it as well, so tens of thousands of hours of testing go into each.
PC Gamer: Do you deliberately go back to formations that have done well in a past release and dismantle them?
Yes. We do that in patches. If they are formations that shouldn't work in real life - the famous one was the Diablo formation - then we won't go in and break it, what we actually do is go in and fix what the problem is, fix why those do well, whether that be an improvement in defensive play or goalkeepers doing something silly when they're under certain amounts of pressure. We've yet to see any people talking about a cheap tactic in FM '10, so the aim is for FM '11 that there won't be one of those either.
PC Gamer: Is there anything you've changed with scouting?
We've got loads more fields on the database, so there's more that the scouts are looking into, but we're in a fortunate position with our scouting network in that if it ain't broken, don't fix it.
We've got head researchers in either 51 or 52 countries and regions now. We have about 1,200 scouts around the world looking at individual teams. I think the only change that we've got in that area is that we've got another person working with the team as an assistant who's based full time here because it was getting too much. I've been told a bunch times in the last few months that we have the best scouting network in football. When people inside the game are telling us that we've got the best scouting network, there's no point in changing, apart from improving by making sure there's more data fields and making sure that everyone's happy.
PC Gamer: I remember reading that Javier Saviola was your proudest scouting moment, has that changed?
Leo Messi. Leo Messi was in our database as a 13 year old. He wasn't allowed to appear in the game because of child protection law until he was 16, but he was in our database as a 13 year old as becoming a world superstar. It's moved on from Saviola. There have been loads I've been happy with over the years. A bizarre one I've was really happy with were Neil Lennon and Danny Murphy when they were playing in Crewe's youth team. That was because at the time I had just started doing the research for the game, and just seeing those players coming through. It was the first time that there had been a football game that had predicted that these people were going to become successful in the future.
Before SI came along and we were doing our games, most of the management games would reset at the end of the season, or the player stats would change. The Collyer's overall vision for the game was that it should be a complete football world that continued. That first game that I worked on was the first one with real data, so seeing those guys break through – I know those guys didn't become world superstars but both of them did very well - to pick those out as Crewe reserve players at a time when our whole scouting networks was 25 people globally was kind of cool
It's particularly impressive being able to tell your mates about them as well, and having other people who play FM going “oh yeah I bought him as an 18 year old, did you know he could also play on the right wing?” Hearing those conversations in pubs around the World Cup was very cool. When we see minus 9 or minus 10 players in the DB - minus 10 means they are going to be absolutely world class - I might turn around and ask the head researcher to actually send some footage to have a look. You're seeing these guys - fourteen, fifteen - marvelling at their skills knowing that no-one outside their country has heard of them,and most journalists in their country haven't heard of them. Seeing them play and being confident enough to have them in the game as that kind of player is very special.
But we do get it wrong sometimes, and there are some times when we're too trusting, and there have been a few cases in the past when players that have been set that high don't even exist: To Madeira is the most famous of those. And then there have also been players that have looked like they were going to be world superstars like Tonton Zola Moukoko - and then something has gone wrong in their life that has meant that they haven't made it.