Republication of an interview that featured as part of the Games Britannia 2012 festival programme with creator of the original Football Manager, Kevin Toms, and current custodian of the franchise, Miles Jacobson. Miles and Kevin also appeared at the festival chatting together about the history of the legendary football series.
Mark Hardisty [MH] Could you give me a brief introduction about yourself?
Kevin Toms [KT] I am Kevin Toms, most well known for creating the original Football Manager game in the 80s, and the marketing of it under my name.
MH How did you first come up with the idea of Football Manager?
KT I had been writing Football Management games for years, since early teens, but mostly as board games. When I later became a professional computer programmer, and then got my hands on home micro-computers, the two things came together as Football Manager
MH Where did the name Addictive Games come from?
KT Before I launched the game, friends used to play it. I noticed they would not stop playing once they started. I needed a name for the company, and I was lying in bed one Saturday morning wondering about it. The name came to me when I was thinking about how addictive the game was to people.
MH At the time, the match highlights were cutting-edge and revolutionary. Are the players really intelligent, or is the score pre-determined?
KT Yes, they work out what to do as the play, nothing is pre-determined.
MH And why couldn’t you get them into my Acorn Electron version?
KT Just not enough memory available in the graphics modes available.
MH Did you use computers and program at school?
KT No, we didn’t have them.
MH How important were traditional Maths and English skills in creating the game?
KT Logic, abstraction, algorithm creation. Basic maths yes. English? Well to write good copy, good ads, and good instructions, yes.
MH Did you play any other management games at the time for inspiration?
KT No. I am never short of ideas, only time to implement.
MH How long did it take to program the game?
KT It was done part time over about a year.
MH What was the best 8-bit version?
KT The Spectrum will always be a favourite of mine, because it was the first implantation I made with the graphics matches.
MH Are you pleased that the Football Manager brand has been continued by SEGA and Sports Interactive?
MH Have you played any of the modern Football Manager games?
KT Yes, but playing when you want to write instead, is not a priority. I am lucky to be able to create something that I want.
MH If so, do you pick Torquay as your team?
KT I typically do. Sometimes Arsenal.
MH What do you think about the future of the videogame industry and in Britain specifically?
KT It’ll always have ups and downs, but there is solid base, that was originally established all those years ago in the eighties.
MH How surprised are you on the impact of the game at the time, the legacy it leaves and the fact that people are still playing your version today?
KT It surprises me, I am delighted, and it inspires me to do more.
MH Do you carry around a fake beard so you can pop it on in case people don’t recognise you now?
KT The beard and I parted company a few years ago. It was artistic differences.
MH What’s your best advice for young people hoping for a career in the games industry?
KT You have to start somewhere so take what gets you in. If you are held back by no experience, get some experience by working for nothing for a while or write something yourself to show what you can do
MH You have a new management game in development for iOS. Can you tell me a little bit more about it?
KT It’s been a long haul but it is now close to completion. It’s my style of games design, my programming, quite different to other football management games, and I am very happy that I have had the opportunity to do it.
MH Could you give me a brief introduction about yourself?
Miles Jacobson [MJ] My name is Miles Jacobson and I’m studio director at Sports Interactive, who make the Football Manager series of games. As well as running the studio, I direct the Football Manager games, and executive produce the Football Manager Handheld series and Football Manager online. Before that I worked in the music industry signing bands – but for 7 years of that time I was working at SI part-time. Football and computer games have been in my blood since 7 & 9 respectively, with the latter fuelled by helping my dad build a ZX80 all those years ago.
MH Did you use any computers or do any programming at school?
MJ There were a few BBC micro’s hiding away, but I did more at home on a ZX81 and Spectrum, learning basic via typing in games listings in magazines. And “poking” games to cheat – or, in the case of the original Football Manager games, looking for the different variables to give me more money in game. I was only young…
MH How did you get into the industry?
MJ I’d been doing bits and bobs for various publishers like writing games manuals to get free games. At the time I was working for Blur’s record label, and someone from Domark wanted to go and see them, so I swapped a couple of tickets for a Blur gig to be a beta tester on Championship Manager 2.
Through that I met Oliver & Paul Collyer, the founders of Sports Interactive. We became friends and I started helping them out, first as a tester, then a researcher, then business manager, then managing director. At some point they persuaded me to go full time!
MH Whats your best advice for young people hoping for a career in the games industry?
MJ The industry is changing every day, so it depends on what you want to do. If you want to work in the mainstream industry, then getting a degree is a very good way to get your foot in the door – programming, art, animation & 3d art are all good routes to take. (I miss out “design” there as, well, we don’t have any designers at SI, with all of the team involved with the design of the game as are our community who come up with ideas all the time).
But while you’re doing your degree, make you own games! They’re so easy to publish nowadays with very few barriers out there and you never know – one of them might be great and end up being a hit. In which case you don’t need to go and get a job as you’ll be starting your own studio.
MH Did you play the original Football Manager, and if so on what platform?
MJ I don’t think there were many days when I didn’t play the original FM! Originally on the BBC Micro at my next door neighbours, and then we got a Spectrum at home. I did play a lot of other games, and types of games, but always went back to FM.
MH Do you think the SI FM series still holds true to the playability and addictiveness of the original game?
MJ I think so, yes – although our games are a bit more complicated nowadays, trying to act as real global simulations, rather than the local “one year & it resets” experience of Kevin’s titles. It was always Ov & Paul’s original plan to take the games to the “next level” when they started off 20 years ago by making it global.
MH How difficult is it to add new features every year to the game? Do real life events ever see themselves onto the feature list – such as a Tevez AWOL feature?
MJ The Tevez situation caused LOTS of arguments last year internally. It started happening towards the end of the cycle, and we were trying to collaboratively come up with a solution with lots of very strong opinions. It was one of the few times I put my foot down during development and thankfully “guessed” correctly to what would happen.
As for features overall, we have a huge database of ideas of things we want to add to the game. So, for now, it’s not difficult, as we’ve got ideas bulging out of our hard drives. Picking the right ones to add, and the right improvements to make, is a lot harder, but we’ve been doing it for a long time now so once I’ve decided what’s going in, I listen to feedback from everyone in the studio and we shuffle things around a bit – it’s a well honed process that improves every year.
MH One of the great benefits of the early FM games was the ability to play a season in an hour, for example. Do you ever worry that adding more and more features removes from the playability for the casual gamer?
MJ Well, that’s one of the reasons we decided to make Football Manager Handheld. It’s a lot simpler as a game and whilst you can’t do a season in an hour, you can in 3 or 4! We also added in the scenario mode to have a shorter experience.
We want to make games that appeal to all audiences, but I don’t think it’s possible to have one game that appeals to all. So we make different versions.
MH Do you think Football Manager has attributed to marital and relationship tensions due to overenthusiastic home managers spending too much time with their team?
MJ We were cited in 35 divorces cases in one year in the UK a few years ago, so apparently it does.
MH How are player statistics evaluated and collated?
MJ We have a team of over 1,000 researchers around the world who report into 51 head researchers in various countries & regions, as well as a team of 4 people full time at SI working on collating them all.
Each of these researchers is essentially a “scout” for the game, the same way a football team has scouts. They watch players week in, week out, and not just first team players but reserves and youth teams too.
MH Have you ever found any players with a biased rated? (I’m thinking of Watford players)
MJ We get accused of it, but I don’t research Watford any more so that those accusations go away. We have lots of automated checks and balances that spew out lots of stats pointing to players and clubs who might be over-rated. So we’re pretty careful with it.
MH In a way, real managers are playing Football Manager by using OPTA statistics. How many real managers do you know use FM for player research or other reasons?
MJ A few managers admit to playing it. As do some head scouts. Everton have licensed our database too. So it’s definitely something that is used in the football world.
MH Providing a steadfast reason to own a PC for gaming, FM has moved onto PSP, iOS and Android in recent years – has the move been a good one and is the focus still on the PC version primarily?
MJ We have different teams at the studio so each team focusses on each game – I’m still involved across the board in various capacities, the research gets used in all and the match engine gets used in most. We’re set up to be a multi-title studio, with dependencies being handled by a central team, and core gameplay handled by individual teams. It works well for us and working on multiple titles hasn’t changed the focus at all – that is still to entertain as many people as possible with our work.
MH What do you think about the future of the videogame industry and in Britain specifically?
MJ Britain has always been a massive creative force in gaming and I don’t see that changing any time soon – we have some of the best games studios in the world and huge amounts of new smaller studios have started in the last couple of years. It’s a great place to be if you want to make games, and I’m honoured to have been able to do it for so long.