We chat with Sports Interactive studio director Miles Jacobson to discuss the game's back-to-basics Classic Mode, refined 3D match engine and upcoming mobile iteration.
The new Classic Mode is being billed as a headline feature of Football Manager 2013. Why did you feel that now was the right time to introduce this?
"It's something we'd been thinking about for a few years really. It first came about when we were having some post-mortem meetings on one of our games, and I spoke to everyone who had been playing it since it came out. It was surprising that a few of the more senior people hadn't actually been playing the most recent version, and one of the reasons for this is that they didn't have enough time any more.
"At the time, we were doing some research into the console market, into why Football Manager hadn't worked as well on Xbox 360 as we had wanted it to, and we came up with the idea that was Football Manager Classic during those discussions. We were being told by the people involved in that research, 'That game sounds awesome, but I'm still not interested in playing it on a console'.
"So, we've been working on it for the last couple of years, working out exactly what it should be, and that's what's in Football Manager 2013. Classic Mode is there for people who simply don't have the time to play what the full simulation mode has become now. We wanted something that is suited to those who are time-poorer, and for those who want a simpler experience with the game as well."
So it's about bringing back players who have been away from the series, as well as attracting newcomers?
"Yeah, definitely. At the end of the day, anyone who makes computer games is an entertainer and we want to be able to entertain as many people as possible with our work. For us there was a barrier in place because the simulation mode is exactly what it's meant to be - a simulation. That means it's very in-depth and it is all-consuming, if you like.
"That's not something that everyone is going to want to play, but we didn't feel there was another manager game on the market that gave people the experience they were asking for. So we just decided to give them that experience as well as the full-fat one."
Was it difficult to decide which features should be dropped and which should remain?
"To be honest, it was quite easy deciding what to drop. There were a few things that were controversial, a few things that had to be discussed in detail. The meetings over what to lose and what to keep literally took about two or three days. We had a pretty good basis for what we wanted to do before that, and then we went into a lot of the finer details across those few days.
"It wasn't just about dropping features. It was also about making sure the game was cohesive. There's no point in just dropping a module from the game when all of the underlying effects that module has were still there. So we had to do a full operation, rather than just taking stuff out. We had to make sure that everything under the hood still came together really well."
What kind of feedback has Classic Mode received during testing?
"The beta testing tends to be the more hardcore players, so we've had a lot more feedback on the simulation mode than we have on Classic Mode. We've had other testers who've been doing things away from the public eye, and the feedback from them has been incredibly strong.
"The reviews that have been coming in have been very strong too. We've had about 50 reviews so far, and 49 out of 50 are very positive. That's pretty good going. Certainly a lot of the reviewers are talking about Classic Mode in details because a lot of game reviewers have jobs and responsibilities, so it's ideal for those people."
There's also Challenge Mode in this instalment. How do you plan on adding to this with DLC?
"We've got four challenges there in the box and one lined up to come out as DLC. Then we're going to wait and see how they go. If people end up buying them, then we'll release more of them. If people want the content, then we'll give them the content, and if they don't we'll go off and give them something else instead."
Are we talking premium DLC?
"That depends what you mean by premium. It would be paid-for DLC. I think we're looking at 99p for each Challenge. They take a long time to do and then you've got the replay value of them as well. So I don't particularly call that premium."
There have been numerous improvements to the 3D match engine this year. How far do you think you can take this part of the game?
"We've always had a long-term plan there. We've been making plans for 20 years now, and we certainly plan to be making games for another 20. Our dream for the match engine is basically for people to not be able to tell the difference between what they are watching on the television and what they are watching on the screen.
"At the moment, the technology is not there and our graphics aren't there either. Longer term that's what we want to do and every year we make big improvements. This year we've been focusing on the artificial intelligence side of things as well as the physics. That's meant a lot of rebalancing has had to be done. Last year we concentrated more on the animations.
"We've got the next few years mapped out for what we want to do, but people will have to wait until this time next year to find out exactly what direction it is heading. Much as we want the game to be an authentic simulation of football management, we want the match engine to be as realistic as it can be."
There has always been a staggering amount of content in your games. Just how much research does it take to make a Football Manager title?
"There are 51 countries and over 5,000 playable teams in the game, and that's not including the national teams you can manage as well. We've currently got more than 1,000 scouts around the world in 51 countries and regions and they're not just watching first-team, because anyone can watch the first-team playing on TV.
"Our scouts are watching the reserve team, the youth team, and going to quite a low level of the youth team. To put it into perspective, in England we have scouts at most clubs now down to Conference North and South level, watching the first, reserve and youth teams. So a lot of work goes into it. Each of the players in the game has over 200 stats that are being researched, the staff have a few less than that, but there's now over 530,000 players and staff in our database overall.
"It's not just down to the players and the staff either. We go as far as researching weather patterns around the world. So for every longitude and latitude you have a football club in, we will also have the relevant weather pattern for that region to try and accurately replicate that. We also have altitude, so if you're playing a game in Mexico up in the mountains, your players are more likely to get tired than they would against Norwich."
Would you ever consider bringing the series back to the console market in the future?
"No, to be honest. We're on PC and Mac and we've got our handheld game now on PSP, iOS and Android. We'll be looking at new mobile platforms as they come through and other ways to play the game on the move, but beyond that, we're not looking at coming back to consoles any time in the future."
Why did you choose to announce the next edition of Football Manager Handheld for PSP, rather than Vita?
"If we were going to be doing something on Vita we would be doing something different to Football Manager Handheld. It's a lot more powerful as a device, but at the moment the market isn't really there. I hope it has a great Christmas, because I'm a big fan of the platform, and we certainly have ideas of what we would like to do if we were on it.
"For the time being, from our perspective, we're only a small team of 90, so any other games that we work on would involve taking on more people. So we'd have to make sure that it would recoup what it costs, not just on the financial side, but also on the creative side and taking people away from other projects. As it stands at the moment, the cost-benefit analysis just didn't add up."
Does the level of piracy on the Android platform concern you?
"Piracy is bad on every platform that we've been on. The last stats that we've had on PC were for FM 2009, which were between six and eight copies for every legitimate copy bought. On Android that stat is between nine and 11 depending on whether you believe that everyone who has an Android device actually has three or four of them. The low-ball version of the stat is nine, the more realistic version is probably ten and the higher version is 11.
"There's a lot of dishonest people in the world that go around pirating stuff. It happens with any entertainment industry and has done since before things were digital. When I was growing up, home taping was killing music. It's something that happens, so we don't base our business model around the people who decide to take our work rather than paying us for it.
"We had a target that we had to hit on Android to be able to do another one, and we've hit that target, so we'll do another version of it. I don't see every pirated copy as a lost sale, mainly because I don't think I'm that stupid, but a certain percentage of people who do pirate games would buy them if there was no other way to get them.
"It's disappointing when somebody takes your work in that way, because computer games are entertainment, they're not a human right, so nobody has the right to pirate a game because they can't afford it. I used to save my pocket money to buy games back in the day, and I wish there were more honest people in the world. It's so easy to pirate stuff now, so it has to be expected."
Where do you see your main competition coming from now? Championship Manager seems to be in limbo, but FIFA Manager is gradually gaining recognition.
"I think FIFA Manager is a very different game to ours. It's more for people who want to concentrate on the personal life of the manager rather than the football side, in my opinion. I haven't played the new one so I don't know if they've made changes yet.
"Really, our biggest competitors are the online titles and the other mobile titles out there, some of which are very good, and some of which are very bad. We've never really been driven by competition though. We are our own worst critics and we know what we want to do in the longer term with the game.
"I don't think anybody can accuse us of being complacent in a year that is our 20th anniversary where we've got 900 new features in the latest game and two and a half new game modes. We try and concentrate on what we do rather than what the competition are doing. I believe that if we continue to make what I believe are the best games in the genre, we'll carry on being as successful as we have been throughout the studio's 20-year history."
Was this any different when Championship Manager was on top of its game?
"We've always concentrated on what we did. We've seen so many games come and go over the years. Obviously we were responsible for the first ten or 11 versions of Championship Manager, but when the first post-us version of Champ Man came out, we treated it the same way we would any competitor. A few people here went and had a play at the game, but I can't even remember downloading the demo of it.
"We were more concerned about making our game the best it could be. At the end of the day, if we make a rubbish game, we're not going to get the chance to make one the next year and we're all going to have to get proper jobs. So it's therefore really important that we make the best games our ability allows us to."
How important is the Football Manager community to the game's infrastructure?
"A lot of the team at the studio, including myself, were involved in the community before we were here at SI. There are loads and loads of affiliate websites we have that produce amazing content for the game, such as hints and tips guides, data updates, new competitions and face packs.
"The people out there on the scene are absolutely phenomenal, and it's why we don't sell strategy guides or anything like that. We don't need to when you have a community that is doing such a good job of giving out hints and tips. Why would we go out there and release a guide ourselves?"
And of course there are those who dedicate their time to releasing updates for versions past and present...
"Very much so, and we actively encourage those guys to keep making updates. I used to do a data update for Championship Manager 2, so we've all been there in some respect. Sven, who's one of our programmers here, actually made the editor that I created the Champ Man 2 updates with and taught me how to publish them online back in 1994.
"The community side of things is massive for us. We couldn't have moved from making Champ Man to Football Manager without the community and the fans sticking by us."
After revolutionising the football management simulation have you ever considered turning your attention to other sports? I know you worked on some American sports management sims...
"We did baseball and hockey and they both did well to a point. I know that the baseball game is still going. Markus and his team at Out of the Park Developments still make Out of the Park Baseball and it's a fantastic game, but for us we want to stick with what we know best, which is football.
"I don't believe we would do as good a job on a rugby game or on a cricket game as we do on a football game. So we've got no plans to expand into other sports. It also goes back to my answer early about our time and the mid-share that we have as people at the studio. We wouldn't want to take away from our other games."
> Read Digital Spy's review of Football Manager 2013
Football Manager 2013 is available now for PC and Mac.