SPOnG: There's not been a Football Manager game on home consoles since the release you mentioned earlier, several years back. What was your assessment of the console version back then? Did it fail because the interface didn't gel with audiences or something like that?
It wasn't a case that it didn't gel with the audience – the interface just wasn't good enough. The user interface wasn't good enough, the control methodology wasn't good enough. So basically we tried to make the PC game on the Xbox 360.
Playing a game on a TV is a very different experience to playing a game on a computer. We didn't think about it enough. And the first couple of versions there was leeway because there were people who literally just wanted to play FM
and they couldn't play it on their laptop anymore. When the third version came out we were sitting there playing it in the studio and we didn't enjoy it that much.
It wasn't a pleasurable experience. It was still profitable, but we sat down with SEGA and said we didn't want to do it anymore. We outlined a list of benefits for the PC version as a result and SEGA was fine with it. If we think of the right idea we may come back to it, but at the moment we're concentrating on the core stuff that we're working on and making sure that the PSP game goes from strength to strength.
The PC and Mac game continues with the upturn that we saw last year, because I personally think that FM10
was a much better game than FM09
. I'm very confident FM11
will be on the same trajectory of going up.
SPOnG: Do you think the presentation and control methodology of the PSP version could translate well to XBLA and PSN versions?
I think it might be a little bit too simplistic for XBLA. There have been a couple of PS3 Minis that have been released that are management games. Those games have basically taken mobile phone versions and ported them over, and again they've been too simplistic for the platform. They haven't done that well.
So maybe it's going to take a middle ground, who knows? But one thing that you can be sure of is that we have a bunch of design ideas for a bunch of different types of management game. We want to be able to entertain as many people as possible, but we've got to time it right when we do them.
It would be very easy for me to sit here and press a big button and say 'right, we're going to make games for every platform and they're all going to be different,' and then we end up with a studio of about 300 people, we have to have three extra layers of management and we lose the whole ethos of the studio. All of a sudden people start leaving – which is something that doesn't happen to us very often – then everything changes and all our games become crap.
We'd rather take thing slowly and thankfully our parent company completely buy into and agree with our model and how we want to work, because we've expanded when the time's been right. We've expanded onto platforms when the time's been right, and we don't try to run before we can walk.
SPOnG: How has Sports Interactive grown or expanded over the last couple of years?
We've doubled in size over the last five years, from around 35 to about 70.
SPOnG: Because you said before about how you're working on an MMO for the Asian market. With that on top of Football Manager 2011 and your other projects, has your growth been a comparatively slow one for you or quicker than you thought?
We've expanded a lot quicker over the last five years than the fifteen previous to it. But as part of it as well, because we have a very low turnover of staff, it means we have a bunch of people who have been at the studio for longer than ten years.
As an example of that, on the Korean MMO I was heavily involved in the deal and I was involved in the very early stages of the design. Someone else took that over when KTH (the Korean developer) started getting involved. So basically KTH saw some of the original stuff from me, came back with a load of other stuff which got put into a much better document with improvement from another member of the team, who's then grown that out.
Mark Duffy is the lead producer on the game and he reports back to me regularly and when things are going wrong, they'll come to me for a decision. I've had to learn to empower other people more, and whilst I still go off and do all the press and PR, that's because most of the other guys don't want to do it. So we're a team at SI – it's not just me, never has been just me.