Interview: 'Football Manager 2014' director Miles Jacobson

Sports Mole catches up with Sports Interactive director Miles Jacobson to discuss Football Manager 2014.

Football Manager 2014 is the most authentic recreation of the beautiful game that developer Sports Interactive has delivered to date.

This season's instalment of the life-consuming simulation comes with more than 1,000 improvements on board, heightening both its accessibility and realism.

With the game having just landed on PC and Mac, Sports Mole caught up with Sports Interactive director Miles Jacobson to discuss all things Football Manager.

Football Manager 2014 has just launched for PC and Mac. What has the early reception been like?
"At the moment the reviews are slightly better than last year's, which is very good. Pretty much every one has been four out of five or higher.

"There's only been one that was lower than that, and that was somebody who accused us of being complacent because we've only added a thousand new features this year, and then it turned out he had only played the game for eight hours, so he wouldn't have seen very many of them.

"It's been really good, but away from the journalists, I'm also very interested in what the public actually think of it. We've had out beta test out there for a couple of weeks, and that has been incredibly positive.

"The word of mouth that has spread from that has meant that we've gotten our largest pre-orders in the history of the series, which is pretty damn good when you've been going for 21 years."

Screenshot 8© Getty Images

Which of the new features have been singled out for praise?
"The strange one for me is the new tactics system, because it was quite polarising for the first couple of days.

"There were a few people who were becrying the fact that we have ripped out the old slider tactics system, but within a couple of days, those people were coming back and saying 'now I understand why you did that, it's much better.'

"Being able to do a lot more from inside the news items has gone down well. Something as simple as the training overview screen has also been well received, the fact that it pops up at the start of each month.

"The new interaction system has also been going down very well, so all in all there isn't much that people are complaining about. There were a few hiccups early on with the match engine in the beta version, but that's what we have a beta version for, to get that kind of feedback.

"Originally we were only going to do one version of the beta for release we actually ended up doing three, reacting directly to the feedback that we were getting. We fixed around 900 issues and had three different match engine versions out since the beta started two weeks ago."

Screenshot 7© Getty Images

It's a more streamlined experience this time around. Was it challenging making the game less time consuming while maintaining its depth?
"We've actually increased the depth this year, but we've made it a lot more presentable via the news screen There's also something that not a lot of people are picking up on. We've changed a lot of the language inside the game.

"Things that used to be technical terms before, we've changed to footballing terms, and that's made quite a big difference as well. It's made it easier for people who don't make computer games for a living to understand a lot of things in the game.

"We went in with the approach this year that we wanted to make a game that was really polished and a lot more football than it had been previously, and that's why we made these changes.

"It's easier for people to navigate round, but if you do want all of the depth, it's still there and more just by going and having a look at the other screens. The balance was there to be struck and this year I think we hit the sweet spot with it.

"The real difficulty for us is going to be with Football Manager 2015, and how we maintain that balance and don't try to go too far one way or the other, but we've been doing it a while now, so I think we'll be alright."

Screenshot 2© Getty Images

How much of a learning curve is there for the series regulars in Football Manager 2014?
"There are a few things that will take a while to get used to, like the new tactics system, but I certainly think that it's the most successful game that we've made.

"The normal steep learning curve when we change bits of the interface around doesn't seem to be there from the feedback we've been getting from the people that pre-ordered, who tend to be the most hardcore, so I think it will be pretty smooth.

"With the tactics, once you get used to it you never want to go back again. They are so much better than anything we've had before, and I'm really pleased with the reception so far."

Screenshot 6© Getty Images

Did the success of Football Manager 2013's Classic Mode influence the level of streamlining in this year's core game?
"We made the decision to keep Classic separate on a design level to Football Manager. Oliver Collier, who is one of the founders of the studio, is now the director of Football Manager Classic and I'm directing simulation mode.

"I exec produced both so that Oliver knows what's going on in the sim game in case he wants to nick any of our features for Classic, but there was a concerted effort to keep them separate and offer different experiences."

How important is the Football Manager community and the Steam Workshop feature to what you were trying to achieve this season?
"The community has always been massively important to what we do because their feedback is paramount, but they also keep the longevity of the game going by releasing updated data and new leagues for people to download.

"It's just made it easier for them to publish them with Steam Workshop, and also easier for people to find them. If somebody has to go searching around the internet across a few dozen websites to find the content they want, they are unlikely to do that.

"If they just have to press a button and find the content they want, they'll download it and go and join the community of that particular site. So the gauntlet has very much been laid down for people to create amazing content for the game, and hopefully they will."

Football Manager 2014© Getty Images

You once said that you make football products rather than video games. Has that always been the case?
"I think it's only the last couple of years that we've been able to do that, because the game didn't get as much mainstream coverage in the past.

"When you've got Football Manager being used the way it is inside football, with Max Rushden coming to training at Watford to find out whether he is good enough to get into the game, and phone-in debates happening on talkSPORT about favourite Football Manager formations and stories, you realise it's become part of football culture.

"That's something we've been trying to do for a few years, and because we had that intention in the studio, it started to spread outside the studio as well. It's always nice when people in the games press review the game, but I tend to be more interested in the reviews that are being done by football journalists because they're our market.

"Not that many people who work in the games industry play the game. I talk to a lot of people who make other games, and they will all be talking about other titles that their peers are making. Not many of them talk about Football Manager.

"We know what our audience is and that's who we're trying to get to. The reason we know our audience is because we in the studio are our audience. We're more football fans than we are gamers, so we made the game for ourselves, and it just so happens that there are lots of other people in the world like us."

Screenshot 5© Getty Images

Do you have a favourite story about how the game has impacted on real-world football?
"There are a couple of them really. Andre Villas-Boas when he was Chelsea scout turning round and saying that he used the database as a reference tool, that was pretty cool, but also Ole Gunnar Solskjaer when he took over at Molde.

"He was asked about what made him want to be a football manager and he said 'the years working under Alex Ferguson as his reserve team manager have probably helped, but I'm also very good at Football Manager.' Seeing a group of journalists laughing at that made me very proud.

"The first of those stories was actually Demetrio Albertini, back in the day when Peter Taylor managed England for one game against Italy. He selected a bunch of players who hadn't played for England before and the national coach of Italy at the time turned around and said 'I don't even know who any of these players are.'

"The story goes, as Mr Albertini tells it, that he got his laptop out and actually showed the coach the players' stats inside the game. So that's a pretty cool one as well.

"Every time we hear of anyone playing the game who is a footballer or works in football it gives us a buzz, and we're lucky to work with so many. On this year's instalment had more than 300 footballers helping us test it, playing it for around six weeks, and the feedback we've had from them has been invaluable in shaping the final game."

Screenshot 4© Getty Images

What advice would you give to first-time players joining the series with the latest instalment?
"When you are going to be playing a game and you set up your tactics, think very hard about player roles and player instructions. Don't just think that saying you want to play 4-4-2 is going to be enough.

"Have a look at the team that you are managing, have a look at how they play in real life. Have a look at the roles the players have in real life.

"You wouldn't play Michael Carrick in an attacking midfield role because Manchester United don't play him in that role. Make sure that you set the roles correctly to get the best out of them."

Football Manager Classic is in the works for PlayStation Vita. Will this be similar to Classic Mode in the PC game?
"It will be pretty much the same as the PC and Mac game to the point where you will be able to upload your PC game to the cloud and download it on your Vita and carry on playing. There are a few stats that will be missing because there are much bigger memory restrictions on the Vita, but apart from that it's going to be the same game."

Finally, have you already started working on Football Manager 2015?
"Yep, there's no rest for the wicked. Some of the programmers here have been working on some 15 stuff for a while. We've probably got around a third of what we're going to do on 15 nailed, then we'll choose the rest of it around January at feature meetings."

Football Manager 2014 is available now for PC and Mac computers

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General view of the stadium before the Barclays Premier League match between Manchester United and West Bromwich Albion at Old Trafford on September 28, 2013
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