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Interview

Football Manager Live Interview

IncGamers’ James Chalmers chats to Football Manager Live’s game producer Marc Duffy about the MMO’s relaunch and whether it was a success, the upcoming 3D match engine patch and what other plans the team have for Football Manager Live. Oh and he also tries to find out whether Football Manager 2011 is in production.Firstly whose decision was it to re-launch Football Manager Live (FML) and how did it come about? Was it a joint decision between you and Sega over where the title was going or did you feel the title needed a reboot to revamp the game? A little bit of everything you’ve mentioned contributed to the reboot. From day 1 we were monitoring statistics and keeping an eye on a number of key metrics and it was in the Summer of last year that we sat down with SEGA as we did on a regular basis, to review our findings. Following this particular meeting and then a series of further in-depth meetings we took the decision that the only real way of sorting everything out would be to undertake a reboot. Whose choice was it to cut the subscription fee to £4.99 GBP a month and why did you decide to do this? I guess you could say that the price now is the price we’d always wanted it to be. The original FML announcement talked about the game costing a couple of pints and I’ve used this phrase a lot in the last few months but in the end it was more like a couple of Norweigan pints. Everyone who plays the game and leaves has to fill out a short survey and our analysis of this showed that price was a sticking point for a fairly large percentage. As part of this process we looked at revamping the pricing structure too – we did have different levels based on how long you wanted to subscribe for but in the end we opted for a simply month to month recurring plan. Since the reboot and the new price plan have you seen an increase or decrease in subscriptions to Football Manager Live (FML)? We’re looking at a fairly modest increase compared to when we decided to reboot and that’s very much our strategy for the next nine months. We’ve learnt our lesson from the original launch where we were very happy to keep opening new gameworlds and seeing our subscriber numbers increase in large spurts. However the flip side and ultimately the problem was had was managing the churn well enough. Looking back are you glad you re-launched the title? Would you have done it differently? Glad we relaunched in order to keep the game going but obviously not glad with some of the mistakes we made originally. We are exceptionally good at making a boxed product year on year but the land of MMO’s was a totally new and eye opening experience.I played FML before the re-boot and found unless you were apart of the Game World from it’s launch you were at a great disadvantage when it came to signing decent players, have you tried to balance this making it easier for newcomers to create a well balanced squad? As with the price, this was a common issue and a core reason why people left. We spent a lot of time analysing if this was the case and it was definitely true. Most of the longest running gameworlds were dominated by managers who were signed up and in during the early stages of the GW’s life. In those days it was a race to get in first and a race to get the best players – it favoured the FM fans who had a good level of database knowledge. Having the best players early on generally ensured you were able to get a better placing in the Football Associations and this led to these teams having more money than the others. With the top players and a lot of prize money it meant these teams occupied the top part of the rankings and new managers just had no way of competing. Add to this the fact that you never had to work at keeping these players it just made for a stale game experience for those managers trying to work at reaching the top. {PAGE TITLE=Football Manager Live Interview Page 2}As a manager you can level up and specialise in coaching skills, have you ever thought about introducing staff to the game? Hiring more coaches for example could result in better and quicker player development system, while hiring scouts could inform you of how your opposition play and whom they are more likely to start with and bring on as a sub. Yes we have and this might be an avenue we explore in the future. One thing that we’ve always been keen to avoid is trying to cross over too much into Football Manager Territory. FML is very much a different experience but that said I think there are a few things from FM that would work well and I think having some staff might be one of them. I think some FML players miss the assistant manager feedback and scouting and coaching reports so watch this space. Why did you decide to change the skill learning times? While it does result in your specialising in certain categories surely it means players are missing out on whole classes of skills? We’re trying desperately to promote specialisation. We have this long term vision of managers being able to sell their expertise in-game so the top skilled physios can rehabilitate a player from another team much faster than they could do themselves but obviously this would come at a price. The top skilled scouts could check out a player and provide a report for someone who doesn’t have the right level of skills. We could even have a scenario where those people who have specialised in finance can loan other teams money. Allowing teams to work together and not just against one another is our key objective here. The changing of the skill times and gradients was the first phase in making this dream come alive as before it was too easy to become a jack of all trades and a master of none. Why did you decide to introduce the fantasy player Game Worlds? Surely people want to play with their own created dream teams consisting of real life players? The fantasy GW was aimed at our most ‘hardcore’ of  players pre-reset who told us that they didn’t want to play with real players but instead liked and loved the challenge of playing with a bunch of unknowns. This has long been a feature when starting a game in FM so it’s a natural evolution for FML to allow this choice. Have they proved popular since the re-launch? For those who opted into this GW pre reset they are really popular. As it stands right now we’ve not no immediate plans to be launching any new GW’s in this mode and instead we’ll be concentrating on our other type of GW – Returning Stars which uses real life players. Will we see any more Game Worlds introduced to Football Manager Live in the near future? Yes, we’re going to be concentrating on trying to grow our subscriber base slowly and as part of this we will be looking to launch more GW’s this summer that coincides with the world cup and some PR activity. The release of the 3D match engine should be the catalyst for a few more worlds to open. Have you ever thought about adding a FML Store? With micro transactions allowing players to purchase premium content whether than be special stadium stands or specially designed kits? I wouldn’t say we’ve thought about it too much for FML but that is not to say we’re not keeping an eye on this and the social networking sphere. Micro transactions seem to be an avenue that more and more Western publishers and developers are exploring so it will remain something we monitor. {PAGE TITLE=Football Manager Live Interview Page 3}The upcoming patch, which will implement the 3D match engine, is as you have put it in the “worst kept FML secret ever.” How has the development of the 3D engine for FML faired? Was it a case of just taking the code from Football Manager 2010 (FM 2010) and then coding it into FML? It’s been an ongoing project for our teams for around six months. Due to some underlying platform differences between FM and FML it’s been a much longer setup time that we would have liked but we’ve got the 3D and the core match engine sharing between games now so new developments in other areas will be ready and available to FML much quicker in the future. We’ve found that the FML architecture allows quite a few managers that had troubles running 3D on their machines with FM to happily enjoy the 3D in the FML beta which is great news. FML has always been a very light client working on pretty much any hardware so we’re keen to keep that up even with 3D. Will the stadiums, which the players can create uniquely for their teams, be visible in the 3D match engine? Yes, although as a first pass they won’t strictly look the same. The long term goal is to be able to create a stadium in FML and go on a virtual tour around it. 
How successful has testing the feature allowing one player to watch the game in 2D and one in 3D gone? How does this feature work? There’s really no problem or differentiation when it comes to people playing and watching matches in 2D or 3D. The rate of recent fixes and polish we’ve added in beta has been amazing and I think that more interesting to people will be things like weather conditions for your home matches  based on the weather in your real life location…English matches played in English conditions! Similarly, we track the sunrise and sunset hours to ensure that the correct lighting conditions are used for the match. If you’re someone who plays all his matches in the dead of night, then expect all your matches to be floodlit! Pitch condition now comes into things for the first time in FML – the higher the reputation of your club the better quality of the pitch with the ball physics and certain aspects of player behaviour varying according to the pitch quality – play on a waterlogged one and you’ll see the ball slow down rapidly when it hits the surface. Have you experienced any major problems with the match engine on the test servers? FM 2010 experienced numerous crashes with the engine on match days when it originally launched. We’ve had all the same compatibility tests (and issues) that FM first went through ensuring that the game works across all the major operating systems and with as many graphics cards as possible. Most of the issues I’ve seen that have been fixed were around launching the client and not actually on match day , that’s not to say there haven’t been any issues on match day! Although I can’t rule out launch day issues (history has proven that no matter how much testing we do nothing can prepare you for live and all the variants of machines and specs) I can say that we’ll be able to get changes and fixes out to people quickly and easily with our auto patching system. The update is going through it’s last few tweaks on the beta server, when can we expect to see the update and apart from the 3D match engine what else can we expect to see included? 1.6 will be out on Wednesday [Today]. The 3D engine is the headline act for this release and the rest of the changes are overall a little bit of spit and polish. Once this is out we’re going to kick on and start on our next roadmap phase of development. Do you look at features, which are introduced or planned for the Football Manager games, and then look at how you could implement these into future updates for FML? We do try and keep the games separate and follow their own paths, however in the areas where we’re code sharing (such as the match) we are looking at things like the FM in-game analysis to help FML managers try and understand a bit more about how and why their team is performing the way they are. Finally any news on whether Sports Interactive are working on Football Manager 11 or Football Manager Handheld 11? And when can we expect to hear an official announcement regarding them? That is one for Miles [studio director at Sports Interactive]. 

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