By Ian Dransfield.
Football Manager 2015 comes with something surprising this time around—and it's not even a feature in the game. No, it releases alongside a film, An Alternative Reality: The Football Manager Documentary—a surprisingly heartfelt and interesting look at the cultural impact of FM over the years.
The game itself, though, is home to plenty of changes and updates all over again—and just as always it's going to divide its audience as a result. Because none of these changes are, in Miles Jacobson's own words, "game-changers".
I sat down with the studio director at Sports Interactive to find out just why I'll clearly end up getting obsessed with Football Manager all over again... as if I've ever not been obsessed with it.
PC Gamer: Changes to Football Manager—numbering in the thousands—are seen in some quarters as 'minor'. Is there a better way to explain things?
Miles Jacobson: I actually think the video this year was a good way of doing it, and I haven't had many people saying [the changes are minor]. I had one guy on Twitter yesterday who was going on and on, until eventually I just said 'look, if you don't like the game, don't play it. And if you think it's just a data update, there's a free one over there—you go and download that'. I then saw other people who follow me on Twitter started talking to him as well, and started pointing out that the changes are there.
People talk about 'game-changers' quite a lot, the people who complain a lot, but at the end of the day we're simulating football—I can't see at any point soon a new rule being brought in that elephants are now allowed to play on the pitch. So the real game-changers in recent years for football have been in financial fair play, which we've implemented—and it's a right bastard—but it's there; player power has become massively prevalent, that's something we've built on and built on over the years, and this year we actually think we're there with the way player power is working inside the game.
Even something like the rule being brought in by the Premier League where you can only have 25-man squads now—that is a massive game-changer from an AI perspective, because clubs have stopped hoarding players—apart from Chelsea who just loan them all out. We have to replicate those systems as well—we have to replicate the Udinese/Granada/Watford situation where basically the three clubs are sharing players. All of those kinds of things massively change the way people play the game, but they might not realise that, and there isn't much I can do about that apart from talk about it to people like you and talk about it on Twitter.
We could have turned around this year and gone 'there's over 3,000 new features!' because we've got 2,000 new animations. But we deliberately haven't done that, because it would be bullshit! We haven't released as much information as we would normally do, where normally I would be sending out five Tweets a day with new features—this year we've gone 'no, we're going to do this 27-minute video, we're going to do a video for FM Classic, there'll be a blog about the data editor, a blog about league licensing, and beyond that we're going to let people find things out for themselves', which we haven't done for a long time. I'm really looking forward to seeing the reaction from people to some of the nice little touches that are in there this year that are going to make their playing experience better.
PC Gamer: Speaking of updates—will injuries ever be updated?
Miles Jacobson: It's actually odd—the way we work on the game is that we have a massive database of features, and as the director of the game I go through all of those features, which have all gone through feature meetings, they've all been voted for by everyone on the team here. I put together the jigsaw puzzle. One part of the jigsaw puzzle that is there every year when I do the first tasks is a revamp of the injury module. It's been there for four or five years now, and new stuff gets added every year. Unfortunately when I'm putting together the jigsaw puzzle of my perfect game, we then go and get all of the features estimated by the programmers, and typically it'll come back that I've put twice as much stuff as we've got time for to be done in a particular year. It's a running joke here that the injury module revamp ends up being one of the first things to go, because there are always more important things. However, in the next two years—either FM16 or FM17—there will be an injury revamp, because there's only so long that joke can carry on inside the studio.
With the way that the team has grown, I think we now have the resources to be able to do it properly. We already work with a company called PhysioRoom that help us with a lot of the injury stuff, but we also have... there are unions all the way through football, the player's union, the manager's union, there is also a group for physios, and they want to work closely with us as well. We will get there, and when we do do it it will be a massive revamp. But I agree with you that it's something that needs to be looked at. The ideas that we have and what we need to do with it are great, but there are only so many hours in a year.
PC Gamer: And what about Gary Neville-style post-match analysis?
Miles Jacobson: We already have post-match analysis in the game, and you can do all the stuff that Gary Neville does if you put on your suit and find yourself dragging things across the screen. We like the user to be in their own world—the person playing the game is in their own world and they should be playing the game the way they actually want to. So having something like someone coming on screen and doing a video would take you out of the believability, it actually puts you in the position where you're watching it on TV rather than you are the person in full control.
We will definitely improve the match analysis side of things, there are some improvements this year and there will be more in the future, but having Gary turning up on screen talking about it... normally I'd say 'it would be rubbish', but it wouldn't be rubbish because Gary Neville's really good at doing it, but no—that's not something that's going to come in. The same way that Jim White on transfer deadline day isn't going to come in. We're happy with the way that we're doing transfer deadline day now.
PC Gamer: So no old players on Soccer Saturday-style situations then?
Miles Jacobson: You do get feedback from old players in the game, but not people watching other people's screens to see if their bet's come in and then missing a goal in their own game. Not that that would ever happen on Soccer Saturday... We also won't have commentary, as I heard the other night on Radio Five, where the commentator is more interested in whether people have come back from half time to get their seats or whether they've stayed in to have a pint and therefore missing a goal for England. There are some things that don't need to be in the game.
PC Gamer: I can imagine programming in that commentary would be quite bizarre.
Miles Jacobson: Yeah—our crowd are very good though, because basically the hot dog stands and the bars inside the grounds in FM are more efficient than they are in real life. So therefore everyone's back in their seat for the second half.
PC Gamer: Well, teams use your scouting data in real life—they could use your efficiency models for hot dog queues too.
Miles Jacobson: I think it's very important that they start doing that.