Q&A: Sports Interactive's Miles Jacobson on Football Manager 2008

Football Manager 2008 has finally been announced, so we headed to North London for a post-match interview with Miles Jacobson.

Sports Interactive may have taken its time to announce Football Manager 2008, but there was little doubt that the game was coming. The series has been updated on an annual basis for over 10 years, has been critically well received, and holds numerous fastest-selling game records in the UK. And even though the developer has announced this year an online multiplayer version of the game, Football Manager Live, it has maintained that it wouldn't be at the cost of the single-player version of the game.

Developer Sports Interactive has recently relocated, although as managing director Miles Jacobson jokes, "like Arsenal we only moved just up the road." Now boasting an open-plan design and space for numerous teams, the office also holds a toy-filled room for Jacobson, who rose through the ranks to become studio director. GameSpot caught up with him this week to find out more about Football Manager 2008.

GameSpot UK: Tell us about what we can expect to see in Football Manager 2008.

Miles Jacobson: We strive for perfection every year, and being perfectionists we know we're never going to hit it. That's why every year when we've got a new version coming out, rather than just doing two or three new features, we try and get 100+ plus new features in, even if some of them are quite small. We're trying to take the genre to a new level each year as well, and hopefully with things like match flow and board confidence, we're taking another step up.

There are a couple of different ways of looking at the game this year. We've tried to improve it for new users, but we've also tried to not let the old users feel as though they've been left out. For people new to the game, we've added something called the advisor system, which helps you find your way around the game and asks you questions when you're stuck on screens and makes buttons flash to tell you where to go. The interface is also a lot cleaner and slicker--the menus have been reorganised to be easier to navigate. We've improved the tutorial--so much stuff for the new user, and making the news items more descriptive and better for both new and old [players].

For the existing users the key thing is match flow, which is a new system to make the match-day experience a lot more realistic and seem more like you are about to play a match. It's something that we've never really got right in the game before--the matches themselves are always great but the build-up before and after hasn't been, so hopefully we've gone a long way to sorting that out. The way that you make tactical changes now, you go onto the tactics screen and have a little radar pitch and you make the changes as the game is playing because in real life you don't get to time out.

GSUK: Can more experienced users turn off the new assistants if they want?

MJ: Yeah, they can. I do use the line 'evolution rather than revolution' most years now, but we do still have some revolutionary features in there. Match flow's definitely in there, and the way that the confidence system works now is pretty damn cool! We've split it down so that you're getting constant feedback from your board and your supporters on every level of what's going on. So it's not just about your supporters being excited about a new signing, they'll tell you through the year what they think about the new signing. The board will tell you every step of the way how you're doing on the competition's side of things, and you've got more flexibility as well. You can turn round to the board and say that you're going to win the league for them, and they'll back you with more money. But if you don't win the league outright, you're going to get fired very quickly. The supporters basically give you feedback after each match, international management has been rewritten, and the awards system has been completely revamped. A lot of work's gone in this year because FM 2007 is a difficult game to top.

GSUK: You've said that match-day experience has been improved in light of player feedback. Can you tell us exactly how that's going to work in FM 2008?

MJ: Yeah, the match-flow system starts off by giving you pre-match information--things like milestones, players, media pundit comments, bookmakers' odds, and you can easily compare the past meetings from teams as well. Then it goes onto the tactics screen, but the tactics screen and team-picking screen have been merged together, so you can pick your team and have your [tactical] arrows going in whatever direction you want them to. You can go as in-depth as you want to, as always. Once a match starts, the match screen is always on. It doesn't deviate once you're playing a match, so when you're making tactical changes it's actually quite good fun doing it on the fly and trying to get the changes made before the next incident happens. What we're expecting is that people will set up a lot more predefined tactics that they can swap around easily, and all tactics are importable from FM 2007 anyway.

Because of the position we're in, it means that we get a lot of calls from people working inside the business--agents, chief execs, a few managers, beta testers, and the feedback we've been getting on the financial side of things has really helped improve the game this year. There's a lot more flexibility in transfer and wage budgets, and you can move money between them. The idea of having win bonuses done as a squad rather than by individual actually came from agents. Even down to having a manager telling us how important it is to be able to change pitch dimensions, and that's something that's gone into the game as well. If you're going to play with wingers, you can have a wider pitch, and it is little touches like that that make the game a lot more realistic.

GSUK: How are Football Manager and Football Manager Live going to work going forward?

MJ: We've announced the game now because we wanted to spend the previous couple of months doing the PR for Football Manager Live, so it just made sense not to confuse things. We're probably going to shut up about Football Manager Live now for a bit--we've got a beta world out there at the moment and we'll be adding other beta worlds. When we do, they'll all be given away through our registration system or competitions through various sites. The feedback that we've been getting is phenomenal, and I'm playing it until 3:30 in the morning every day.

There were a few people who weren't happy with the wage-auction system in the game, and in the build we sent out last week we just changed it to see if it works. It's just sparked debate, and one side of the argument will end up winning on that particular issue. The constant development model is very liberating and it gives people the flexibility to turn round and try something out, throw it out to people and see what happens. So it's going really well, and we're on target for a March 2008 release date for Football Manager Live, whereas Football Manager 2008 will be before Christmas.

GSUK: We see that you have a PlayStation3 in your office--can we take that to mean that other versions are coming?

MJ: FM 2008 will definitely not be on PS3, but in the long term of course we'd like to make the game for the PS3. We've been making the game for the Xbox 360, we've been having a lot of fun with the consoles and we want to be able to entertain as many people as possible with our games. We do see ourselves as entertainers, so the more people that get to play the game, the better.

GSUK: Has the team on the Xbox 360 version been able to advance the PC version in any way?

MJ: Absolutely, it's been really interesting. Particularly on our forums, every time we announce a new game [for a console] the first question is always "couldn't you be putting those resources into Football Manager!?" But the fact is, if we weren't doing these other games, we wouldn't have the other people here--it wouldn't make the [core] Football Manager team any bigger. But also, having people working on Football Manager Live and NHL Eastside Hockey Manager, and particularly the Xbox 360, it helps improve the PC game.

The match-flow system may well not have happened if it wasn't for Football Manager Live, because we tried out the mini-radar pitch in that game first. The finance and awards revamp wouldn't have happened without Eastside because those guys moved into the Football Manager team. The Xbox 360 guys are more used to working with threading and hitting certain saving and loading times, so we're able to do things that work on the PC and Mac version as well. It improves things for absolutely everyone that, to be honest, we wouldn't have bothered to do if it wasn't for the 360 because people would've been busy doing other stuff. Having multiple teams working together in an open-plan office has just worked really well. Using the football team analogy, maybe the 360 guys are the defence, the [PC] guys are the attacking midfielders, but if you've only got one part that works, you're not going to have a good team. If everyone's working together, then you're able to succeed a lot easier.

GSUK: You've got a new Football Manager cocktail coming out too?

MJ: That's right, we're going to release the recipe next month, but I had too many of those cocktails last night! They're absolutely delicious, and the main ingredient is vodka...and green stuff.

GSUK: So the game is out on the PC and Mac...

MJ: Before Christmas! Good attempt to try and get a release date out of me there, but we only ever set release dates when we're in manufacture and we're not at manufacture yet, but it'll be before Christmas, and the earlier the better.

GSUK: Thanks Miles.

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