Back in May 2008, I caught up with Miles Jacobsen, head honcho at Sports Interactive for a chat about FML. Though some of what is said here now is a bit out of date, this is the resulting interview. This was originally posted on my blog, A Mod’s Life.
NIK: A lot of people are now starting to plan ahead for the launch of FML… What’s your master plan for your team in FML?
MILES: I’m still thinking about it – the skills side of things has been kind of easy in the beta, as some have been introduced later than others, and some changes along the way, so this side of the game requires a lot more thought than it did for beta. I know what tactic I’m likely to play, but then that will change if I don’t get the players that I want, but I’ll likely go for the “slow but sure” approach, and build things up slowly.
NIK: In FML, does buying top stars guarantee success or is it slow and steady that wins the race?
MILES: You can’t buy top stars at the start of the game, as people who haven’t restarted during beta will find out when they have to start afresh! Slow and steady, a marathon, not a sprint, the tortoise beat the hare, and all the other clichés that have been used during the beta phase spring to mind. It’s going to be fun watching some of the bigger teams in beta adapt to the full game on release.
NIK: Top flight struggle or a more comfortable existence somewhere down the ladder?
MILES: I play in various gameworlds at the moment, and my teams range from top flight challengers, through top flight struggle and a more comfortable existence lower down. The problem with the latter is that it normally leads to the middle option!
NIK: For you – 5 at the back or 5 in attack?
MILES: 442 or 433. I tend to play more attacking, but you need a very strong defence and keeper to make that work properly.
NIK: Do you think the game suffers by having the real life players in the database, when the challenge perhaps is to take a group of unknowns and make a successful team?
MILES: Not at all – the majority of people want players that they can associate to at the start.
NIK: What were your first impressions when Ov told you about wanting to create FML?
MILES: I’d had a few drinks at the time, so it was probably something along the lines of “You want to come back to the studio and make a new game – cool!” He’d been off travelling for a year and a bit, and had left us, so I was just really happy that he wanted to come back. Then when he presented the plans, it got even more exciting, and that has lead to the FML that is there today.
NIK: Was there ever an alternative idea to FML in the pipeline for SI or had it always been an aim of the team?
MILES: We’d investigated some stuff whilst with Eidos on how to take our previous game more online, but they got some management consultants involved, and that put us off the idea, as I really didn’t see what 3 items I’d take onto a desert island if I was stranded had to do with making an online football game. Ov’s idea was had when he wasn’t part of the team, so it was very much a new approach, and fitted in perfectly with where we were taking FM, as it’s quite a different direction.
NIK: What are your favourite (and least favourite!) features in FML?
MILES: I don’t have a favourite or least favourite. I had things I like, and things I don’t like as much, but it’s all been debated amongst the whole team and the forums, and great conclusions have been drawn to pretty much everything now. I’m very excited about some of the future plans that we have for the game, with the constant development model meaning new features and changes every couple of months, which will stop things getting stale.
NIK: Are we going to see FML features added to FM09, or FM09 Features added to FML? (*cough* Customize view *cough*)
MILES: There will be lots of idea sharing going on between the games, just like there has been by working on the PSP and console games. No specifics have been decided upon yet.
NIK: Football Manager aside, what other game has influenced the development of FML the most?
MILES: Cluedo. But not the normal version, the Scooby Doo special edition.
NIK: Apart from (probably astronomical) server costs, what’s the one main thing that you’ve learnt from FML?
MILES: That Oliver and Paul Collyer, founders of Sports Interactive, and the creators of the football titles we’ve made, are both rubbish at the game.
NIK: SI has always been known for its closeness to its community – has FML taken that to a whole new level? There was something infinitely cool about Marc Vaughan’s keeper scoring with a freak free kick from 80 yards against me.
MILES: Yes, I think so – although not just in-game, as most of us are playing under assumed names in most of the worlds so that we can see how people are really playing the game without them behaving because someone from SI is online! On the forums, certainly, although there are times that we’d wish people had thought before posting – there’s no point ranting or shouting at any time, and even less when something is in beta!
NIK: What kind of hours are you and the team working at the moment and what’s the longest you’ve been at the office for without sleep? Do the team get a buzz from this period where the hours may be crazy but you know the finish line is coming into sight?
MILES: There’ve only been a couple of times during the project where anyone has worked through the night, so we’ve been pretty good at getting sleep. Each team member treats these times differently – some love them, others hate them – but each of the team has been brilliant during the run in, and helping out those that are further behind to ensure that the race is finished at the right time.
MILES: For me personally, my record is 75 hours at the office without sleep, but that wasn’t on this project and was some years ago, and I wouldn’t do it again – I always try and get at least 3 hours sleep a night, even when it’s madness. Which is quite often!
NIK: Following on from that, we’ve heard rumblings from Duffy that the forums are changing soon – can you spill any beans on what’s coming there?
MILES: New forum software, new rules, more mods and a super mod, if all goes to plan. We will be trying to reclaim the main forums from the anti-social behaviour mess that they’ve become. Not everyone will like the new rules, but the forums have become a place where the SI team don’t like going any more, which completely defeats the point of having them.
NIK: Do SI have any plans for something fun in the beta a few days before the beta ends? For example another MMO made everybody regarding of top level, level to the top and give them ultra powerful gear. Maybe you could boost every player’s stats to 20 for a laugh or dish out loads of cash?
MILES: No, we won’t be doing that. A few teams had that during the end phase of the alpha, and it was very funny for some of us, whereas others didn’t like it at all, so the safe approach is to not change anything.
NIK: Actually I was one of those that didn’t find it so funny… Anyway…! How much mileage do you think there is in FML? Do you think we’ll be still playing in 5 years? 10 years?
MILES: If someone had asked us back when we first started making games, I don’t think either Ov or Paul thought it would last long, yet 15 years later, the FM series goes from strength to strength, continuing to smash sales records and being more popular than ever.
I don’t see FML to be any different – the current skills set will take 4 years plus to get, and we’ll be adding more, so we see this as a very long term project. Unless no one enjoys it and wants to play it, in which case it’ll be very short term!
NIK: Someone had a more general question about careers in the industry as well – What advice do you have for people that want to be a games designer and have great innovative ideas, however find it hard to convince others (I’m guessing we’re talking about parents here!) that their life is actually going anywhere in this type of industry?
MILES: (cue lots of complaints from parents) Don’t listen to them. Pursue your dream. But do it whilst you have another job too and/or other qualifications, so that you’re still able to pay the rent! However, the games industry is just as competitive as any other entertainment industry, and very, very few succeed in these dreams.
NIK: Now the key question – you must be pretty delighted with the standard of moderating that the game has seen so far? ;-P
MILES: Fishing for compliments isn’t a good trait, Nik. But we do appreciate all the work the mods have done. Apart from the one who cheated although, we actually appreciate that too, as it showed us some holes that needed to be plugged.
NIK: It was worth a try! What do you say for all people out there who want to be a mod? Where do they signup or who do they speak to? Are there any restrictions or limitations?
MILES: If they are helpful in the gameworlds, they’ll soon get noticed. Mods will be picked up via recommendations from other mods, in the main.
NIK: I’m going to avoid asking the obvious, but have you any word on what sort of timescale there is before we get ‘the big announcement(s)’ on the release of FML?
MILES: It could be weeks, it could be months – the beauty and the beast of an MMO is that we can be very flexible with decisions. If everything is perfect in the next few weeks, then the announcement will be weeks away. If not, it’ll be months. Either way, the right decision will be made about launch, at the right time.
Well, thanks for that Miles!
|Written By Nik Reeves-McLaren
It's a Mod's Life author Nik Reeves-McLaren is a moderator in Coppell. His long-running blog tracks his experiences as a mod, as well as providing the latest information on changes in the FML universe.