Sep 14

Getting Info To The Masses: Is The Customer Always Right?


The last couple of weeks have shown some unprecedented debates in the general forums, beyond the usual moans about moderators or specific areas of game play like the match engine. Now the masses have turned their focus upon the development process and the levels of communication between the games developers and the playing customers.

“The Customer is always right!”

Sorry to disillusion you all, but that’s simply not true. If we walk away from the service counter for a bit and step into the back office you’ll find more often than not that the opposite is the reality. It’s a saying that is trotted out to the masses to keep them appeased keeping customers happy is an important part of any business – giving them any real rights or authority is not.

Prior to signing up you must agree to the Football Manager Live Terms and they outline both the commitment the company has to you, as well your responsibilities to the company. Nowhere does it say you determine how the game should be played, nowhere does it say you can have a say in the development process and nowhere does it guarantee you information about upcoming changes to the product. It does inform you though that FML is constantly evolving, it does inform you it is your responsibility to be aware of any changes in the conditions of use.

Putting aside the issues that led to the indignant uproar seen in the general forum, one thing that stands out is the desire for more information about upcoming changes and how they might affect those already playing. Constant development is the catch cry for FML and while many may fail to understand the ramifications that will have for the future, it’s also reasonable that they get sufficient notification of what changes are coming and more importantly how those changes may affect them.

“Take nothing on its looks; take everything on evidence. There’s no better rule.”Charles Dickens in Great Expectations

So let’s take a look at how reasonable that demand for information might be, and more to the point how information is currently presented to the game’s users and how that might be improved. To start we should clarify the position of Football Manager Live in relevance to the companies involved.

SEGA of course is a well known global company, but it’s important to note that FML is specifically tied up with Sega Europe and as such it’s commitment to support is primarily based on UK and Ireland users. That doesn’t mean they don’t assist users in other countries, where they can they certainly do, but it means the game is presented for users in those countries at this time and as such the agreement to provide customer support is only holding by customers in the stated region.

Sports Interactive, as the games developers, is another story altogether. As noted in the recent podcast with the marketing team, Football Manager Live is the ‘little brother’ of FM and as such not the main focus. If we look at some basic figures, last year FM sold over 1 million copies worldwide while the current user base of FML represents around 3% of that. It’s therefore logical that FM gets priority treatment when it comes to any area that may result in a split of funding or time between the games. An important part of this is the fact that although the two games share some development aspects, there are two separate teams that work on the two games.

The team that works on Football Manager Live  is very small, and while it would be fair to say it represents far more than 3% of the development expertise of FM, it is also unreasonable to expect the same level of marketing, communication or other promotional activity that takes place with big brother.

The thirst for more rapid development, reduced time between updates, increases the workload for the developers. The major repercussion of that will be a reduction in the time available for information on changes to be presented, as well as the amount of detail about what effects any change may have.

The Tools

Irrespective of any reasons for the lack of information, valid or otherwise, people will continue to demand it and to a point it’s reasonable for them to do so. Let’s look at the current avenues available for that information to be presented, and whether they might be better utilised to inform the customer.

To start with the Official Website, as the place where users will subscribe from it’s a key tool in announcing both the game, what it’s about and what’s coming up. Bringing up the home page of the website we can see a lot of areas are covered, sections for dealing with your account, information about the various game worlds, an overview and screen shots of what the game is about and links to the game manual, support, information on the broader community and how to participate in that, etc.

Beyond all of that there is a section for news, latest blogs, and latest forum topics. As a portal to other providers of information the website works well, but as a provider in it’s own right it is more focused on what’s happening in the current live game worlds, not on the development of the game.

The FML development blogs are the next logical area to search for information about the games future. First up I have to say I like these blogs, getting opinions and views direct from the developers of the game is a great way to learn about some of the more intricate areas. From the road map blogs of Marc Duffy to the ‘State of the Worlds’ blogs of Rob Cooper, they are always full of great insights and information about the game. What they don’t provide is specific details about upcoming features and like most blogs the interface for prior articles is not great.

The Sports Interactive Community Forums are the veritable font of knowledge for news and views on current features as well as an enormous amount of information on future features about the game. The problem here is that while some may have access to some of the development forums, like the beta forum, the majority do not. The other side of this is the vast array of forums, personally I have access to 12 main forums for FML and most of these also contain sub forums, the expectation that one or other of the development team would spend there days reading through every post on these forums is simply absurd. Fortunately for all of us Bertie BG, the FML Community Guru spends large portions of his time short listing many of these for attention from others in the team, however that then detracts from the time he might otherwise spend on the official website.

Where does that leave us?

A website, a blog and the community forums a large variety of ways for upcoming news about the game to be presented to it’s users. To a large degree all of these combined do that, and generally do it quite well. There could definitely be improvements in the accessibility and efficiency, and to that end there is a big overhaul of the official website coming that will hopefully integrate many of these into a more user friendly format. What they don’t do, and what won’t be resolved easily, is provide the instant response for detailed information about every upcoming change.

For now the best resource for detailed information about upcoming changes is probably the community, you’ve already located the best of these sites at Gameworld One.Com. But many other blogs and websites by other users will go into great detail about much that is coming to the game, whether the insightful outlook of Jakswans blog or the generally constructive but occasionally outlandish rages of T-bag. Many of these sites are run by beta testers or experienced users, and while they don’t always present the official views they do go a long way toward explaining the upcoming changes to the game and often present useful insights on how best to prepare for many of these.

The bottom line of all of this is the size of the FML team, at this point it’s very small and the expectations far outweigh the capabilities of the number of people involved. On the positive side though is the commitment of that team to the longevity of the game, and the seriousness with which they accept and address all of the issues the users may have. The information may not always come when we want it, it may not always be what we want to hear. But it does get through eventually, and any concerns the general users have with it are considered and addressed.

FML Online Manual – I have left this out of the above for a couple of reasons, mainly because it’s role is more one of explaining the features that are in the game already. While it does include information on new features, this is generally done once a feature is locked in. It’s not the role of the manual to ‘announce’ new features as much as it is to explain them. In addition to that I already have an article taking a closer look at the manual scheduled for the near future.

Written By Mark Burton
A moderator since May 2008 in a number of beta worlds and now GW Fowler, he strives to highlight the community aspects of FML and inform new & experienced users about future game development.
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  • Mark Burton

    This article has generated some good debate of late, and more than anything else i guess that's the purpose.

    For those that haven't yet, check out Sean Kaye's rebuttal at as Sean suggests he read it twice to get his around it (and i suggested he read it again, without passion). Whilst the above is my take on how i see the current situation (not to be confused with my opinion on how it "should be"), it's great to see this carried on to other people's opinions and refreshing to get the lengthy response from Bertie also.

    If i was to add to the above now i would highlight one distinction in the rights of the customer, as an individual a customer has very little power - as a collective it's a whole new ball game. Making use of the community is a better way to get issues addressed than the solitary moan, and it's great to see the response this has had in the broader community ~ although i do love the "Sanctimonius claptrap" comment, i prefer some of the more insightful debate raised elsewhere :)

  • Gareth Millward

    Insightful commentary. ;)

  • Guest

    Sanctimonious claptrap.

  • Gareth Millward

    Some sad people spend more time writing about the game than actually playing it too. ;)

  • Mark Burton

    Nice link Jordan, that possibly goes someway toward the Casual vs Hardcore debate as well.

  • I found this article the other day when searching for stuff about MMO design (something I wanted to write a few pieces on). It's a remarkable insight into the concept of the "meta" game between users & developers - that many people enjoy THAT aspect even more than actually playing the product. Check it out:

  • Gareth Millward

    Brilliantly put, Mark, and I think most right-minded fans will have to agree with you. While I think SI have a moral obligation to listen to the genuine concerns of customers, at the end of the day they are in a far better place to make the calls on the development of the game than individual fans are.

    Just as in a democracy the readers of the Guardian newspaper don't dictate British foreign policy, so too the posters on the SIG forum don't dictate the "constant development model". ;)

    But, of course, if the Labour party don't listen to their public at all, then people won't renew their subscription... I mean, vote them in again. :-P

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