Sports Interactive has for years been at the forefront of text-based sports simulations. They invented Championship Manager, one of the world's most popular games, and then continued to define the genre with Football Manager under new publisher SEGA. Beyond soccer (football), they've also redefined hockey management with Eastside Hockey Manager and take in the top team in baseball and their Out of the Park franchise.
Now, they're moving forward with their plans to bring their most popular franchise into the massively multi-player arena. Football Manager Live combines the gameplay of Football Manager with an MMO in an innovative design. We spoke to Sports Interactive Managing Director Miles Jacobson about this brand new idea.
Answers by Miles Jacobson
Questions by Dana Massey
Miles Jacobson: It's something that we've only announced now - we've been working on it for a few years already, albeit it with a very small team, headed up by Oliver Collyer.
It came about because Oliver had just got back from traveling having left SI to not make computer games anymore with the idea for a new game. So we left him to it, and FML was born!
WarCry: The cynical reaction to this announcement is that this is just a fancy version of your traditional network game. Talk about some of the key differences that make this unique?
Miles Jacobson: It really is a completely different game. In FM, you all have to be online at the same time, leading to lots of pre-arranging of times to play, and it's also quite a slow experience as you have to wait for people who play the game differently to you. And is based on real seasons, with real teams.
With FML, you are your own team. You have a fantasy squad, using real players, and a wage cap at start. Apart from that, you can play matches as and when you want to, as well as taking part in organised and disorganised tournaments.
It's difficult to describe how different the experiences are - so we advise everyone out there to try it, and find out for themselves!
Miles Jacobson: If they want orcs, elves and pots of gold, then very little. Whilst the game will be enjoyed by MMO fans who like sports, particularly soccer, it has been designed more for a sports audience, particularly those that like fantasy sports or are "lapsed" players of our Football Manager game due to time restraints. FML is the kind of game that you can spend days playing, or a few minutes a day.
WarCry: So, let's get this right. Hardcore Manchester United fans cannot be Manchester United right? But they could, theoretically, one day sign Wayne Rooney? Explain the use of real world players and what if any role will real world teams play?
Miles Jacobson: Real world teams play no part at all - it would be nigh on impossible to have real teams if you want to ensure managers are all human, as too many people would want to be the huge clubs, and very few people wanting to be the smaller teams.
So, you make up your own team. You are the owner and manager of that team. And you sign players from our database with around 50,000 real players available to buy.
So a Man Utd fan could well sign Wayne Rooney, but then a Liverpool fan could too. It means that everyone is on an equal playing field when they start the game, much like the wage cap system used in a lot of US sports.
WarCry: Many online sports games are frustrating because sports are, by necessity, high scheduled events. Will I ever be forced to login at 8PM sharp on a Wednesday to play a game? Explain how you're breaking these schedules and making sure players can get games when they want them and still progress forward.
Miles Jacobson: You'll never be forced to be online at a certain time, but you will be forced to play games by a certain time. So if the deadline to play the game was 8pm on Monday and you hadn't played it, both teams would then have 24 hours when they could play against an AI manager (if both managers weren't online at the same time) , or else a result will be assigned to you.
Each competition is scheduled differently according to the way it is set up. There are federations who will organise competitions, but users can set up their own competitions at any time they want to, and people accept the potential schedules by joining that competition.
WarCry: Players create their own competitions, rather than competing for promotion and such in a more traditional sense. You mention you overall "world rank" is more to do with how well, rather than how often you play. What advantages are there to winning small cups and competitions?
Miles Jacobson: A couple of months ago, that was true. Things change all the time during development, and in the current alpha world, there are now competitions with promotion and relegation! However, winning smaller tournaments gives you a cash boost, depending on how the prize money is set by the person setting up the competition, and gives you points boosts towards your daily world ranking, as well as helping you keep your squad together.
World rank is still very important, as that gives you your daily prize fund, which is kind of like your wage budget. Fall too far down the league, and you won't be able to afford your squad anymore. Rise higher, and you can get better players.
Miles Jacobson: All of the game worlds are official tournaments. It's too early to talk about inter game world competitions at the moment, but it would be a good guess to think we were looking at those in the long term.
WarCry: Your FAQ mentions that the only requirement on fixtures is that they be played by a deadline. What do we do if you're a deadbeat who never logs in and I play all the time and for me to finish my perfect season I need to play you, but you keep dodging me?
Miles Jacobson: If they are online during the 24 hour phase after a fixture is due to play, they won't be able to avoid you. And, if they aren't, you can play against the AI version of them.
WarCry: How worried are you about balance? In FM, you can always patch when some guy finds a tactical hole to win every game. In FML, the league may be irrevocably screwed up for years to come. How do you think you can avoid this?
Miles Jacobson: We'll be able to patch FML a lot more regularly than we ever could FM. The development of the game is going to be constantly evolving.
WarCry: One assumes that FML will last years, not for a year like most FM games, before being squeled into oblivion. How will you handle database updates and the evolution of players in the real world into the game world? For example, say I sign some young kid and train him well and see him excel, will I ever be hit with a patch/roster update where his career implodes due to real world factors outside my control?
Miles Jacobson: Once you are in the game world, that database is locked. If you join another gameworld later on, that might have updated data.
Miles Jacobson: The same reason I'd give to anyone who likes sports - it's a chance to be in a competitive sports game that you can play with people around the world from your living room, from your office, from your bedroom, or your garden. You'll make friends, and enemies, whilst playing a really good fun sports management simulation in a way that has never been seen before. And if you don't understand the rules of the sport, there will be hundreds of people around trying to help you.
What's great for us is when we get emails from people who've never been into Football/Soccer telling us how their game has made them fans of the sport. We look forward to that continuing with Football Manager Live.
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