Miles Jacobson on Football Manager 2011

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The latest Football Manager title, Football Manager 2011, is scheduled for a Christmas release. I interviewed Miles Jacobson, Sports Interactive's Studio Director, to discover some of the new features that his team have implemented over the last year. A lot has changed. For detailed info on what's better, what's gone, and what's new, read on.

PC Gamer: What's changed between this and FM2010?

Miles Jacobson: We've got more new features than ever before this year. Feature roulette - which is a thing we play on the podcast where someone picks a number and they could get a good feature, they could get a crap feature or they could get a blank one - is normally between one and 150. This year it's between one and 500. There have been six major new features that we've announced, some of which have been revamps.

We've revamped the way that we handle the news and the world news inside the game. We added news subscriptions last year and we've expanded upon that, but we've also added in a new module that looks at your club and how you're playing, then works out what your highest league position or lowest league position would be, and whether you'll qualify for any cups, as well as other news. From the offset it sounds quite a simple thing, but it's actually very complicated and adds a whole extra level of immersion.

We've improved the match engine. We always improve the match engine code, but we've changed the look of it as well, so there are new player models, there are even new hairstyles, new crowds, new stadiums. Backgrounds to the stadiums as well so the stadiums no longer just float in space, better weather effects, so there's some shiny stuff in there as well.

Then we've got a whole new way of doing contract negotiations because they're now done “live”: rather then offering a contract to a player and him coming back to you in two days, the renegotiation process is done on the fly. So you make your offer as though you're sitting at a table with the player. On top of that, we've expanded the way that agents are used in the game, so each player has an agent and those agents have different personalities. Some of those agents will come to you and go “I'm not going to tell you what the player wants, just put your best offer first”; some of them will come to you and say “this is what the player wants and there's no negotiation”. There's different elements now, negotiating with different players. Plus, agent fees, which hurt your transfer balance quite badly if you're working with the wrong kinds of agents.

Now, that a particular area of the game, we decided to go down this route after speaking to a bunch of Chief Execs and a bunch of agents in the game, and they also provided us with information for loads of extra contract clauses. Things like players getting a bonus for being in the team of the year, or if you've got a young player, you might sign him as an 18 year old as a hot prospect, but there could be an automatic trigger that after they've played twenty first-team matches they get bumped to a first team wage. It adds a lot more flexibility into that system.

PC Gamer: That's a side of the game most of us don't really see.

Miles Jacobson: And seeing a few player contracts as well that are redacted, but yes, talking to the agents about the clauses were invaluable, because they gave us clauses that I think no football fan is going to know exists: and they're now in the game.

PC Gamer: What specific changes have you brought in for long-term fans?

Dynamic league representation is one for the hardcore users. This is for people who play really long career games inside the game because at the moment, if you start in the Turkish league, you could win the European Cup with Galatasaray and the reputation of the league wouldn't go up. Your club reputation would, but it would get to the point where players wouldn't join your club even if you're winning the Champions League because the Turkish league reputation was lower than the standard they wanted to play in. If you look back at football in the last 30 or 40 years you've had some leagues where they've dropped down: there was a Hungarian team that used to dominate in Europe. Now you're seeing places like Russia, Ukraine, leagues in the middle east and the MLS in America where the reputation is going up so that they now can attract the best players. Because FM previously was static, it would recognise which leagues were improving year on year by research, so at the start of the game the world picture would be the same, but we weren't showing the world picture changing over time and that's what we're able to do now with dynamic league representation.

PC Gamer: Can you describe any other mechanical changes?

The training side of things is completely revamped - it was well due an overhaul. We've made it easier to use, we've added more options for people. You can now train a striker in finishing, for example – or a midfielder in finishing - but we've also added in match preparation, which is a new thing for the genre. A couple of days before a match your assistant will come up to you and go “how do you want to prepare the guys for the next game, gaffer?”, and it's all part of the scouting report you get. You can then ask for your coaches to look at up to three specific formations you might play during the match: they will then train those players in so they have better knowledge going into the match. You're also able to ask them to concentrate on things like attacking play, defensive play, set pieces or even going as far as team blend. So if you are Man City and you buy 20 new players it will help those players gel, but might take away from other training areas.

We've improved the player interaction which is now done on a conversational level: they'll talk to you there and then. So if they say no to a request, you can suggest something else. It's very useful if a player is unhappy and you're trying to make them happy again, you're able to make them various promises that they might or not believe you. I was playing the game over the weekend and I had a fight with a player who'd recently joined me. I signed another striker. He said “you've got too many strikers in the club”, I told him that he was still my first choice, and he replied “I don't believe you”. Then we had a bit of a ruck and two days later he asked for a transfer even though he'd only just moved. I ended up calming him down because I kept my promise and played him in the first team, and eventually he backed down. Because all the players have different personalities they'll react in different way to what you do.