Living the Football Manager Dream: An Interview with SI’s Tom Davidson

By August 15, 2017Product News and Reviews

Artwork Courtesy of Sports Interactive and SEGA

We’re celebrating today’s announcement of the Football Manager 2018 launch date (November 10th by the way) with a special Football Manager-related interview.

Sports Interactive PR Manager Tom Davidson has to be one of the coolest people we’ve worked with this year, a brilliant man that is living the dream.  Every boy has wanted to design a video game at some point in their life and everybody wants to be part of some big.  Davidson has an incredible job that does both.  He’s one of the many faces behind the epic Football Manager series, a game that has gained a worldwide cult following.  The series is one of the oldest and most recognized brands in the entire industry, outliving the competition by remaining relevant year after year for 25+ years.  It’s a great story and one that Davidson should get much credit for.

1.  Football Manager has a worldwide following.  What has contributed to this cultural phenomenon over the years? Is the staff ever amazed by the dedication and loyalty of FM fans?

I think it’s all down to the shared experience of playing Football Manager. We’ve all had that feeling of elation when a tactic you’ve been working on finally comes together, that young signing we’ve turned into a superstar and those unbearably tense cup finals. Those are some powerful emotions and those shared experiences help to bring people together. The beauty of FM is that you go through those emotions season after season.

It never ceases to amaze us how dedicated fans of the series are and we’re really grateful that they’ve supported us so strongly over the years. We still look upon Football Manager as a game made by fans for fans and we want to carry that ethos forward over the coming years.

2.  Sports Interactive produces a great FM product year after year.  What is it like to have to improve the product each and every year even after creating something great?

When I first started at Sports Interactive back in 2012 I came in as a someone who was had been playing Football Manager for 15 years and what excited me most was being able to make the game the best it could possibly be. It’s certainly a challenge – in an average year we’ll go through around 2,000 feature requests – but when you notice something that can be improved upon or hear an amazing feature idea it really does give you a buzz. That feeling that we’re making the game better with every iteration is something that really drives the studio as a whole across the year.

Photo Courtesy of Tom Davidson

3.  How much does feedback from fans go into consideration for changes or improvements to new editions?

It forms a huge part of what we discuss in our yearly feature meetings. A large amount of our feature requests for the year will come from our community – either through our official forums, via social media or even just through conversation with people. Our fans often see stuff that we would miss so having a fan base that is so passionate and engaged with the product is a real asset to us.

4.  Can you talk about how the creation of a FM product is a truly year-round effort?

As I mentioned, we have a series of feature meetings; these typically take place in January and can take over the whole month. We’ll then go through and decide what features we can incorporate into that year’s game and which ones need more development time. We then add in features that have been previously marked as being developed for that year’s game to get the final feature set which is then separated out into the various development areas within the team. From then on we’re into the development cycle which lasts really up until the days before the game is released as we incorporate feedback from the community from the pre-release Beta into the final game.

At the same time that the development of the features is going on we are also collecting the data for the game all year round. We have two public releases of the data – at launch and after the January transfer window has closed – but we are constantly evaluating and adjusting the data to make it as representative of what’s going on in the world of football as possible.

As you can tell, it’s a very intensive operation in the studio all year round!

5.  How large is the FM staff for this year’s edition? Are some of the staff based outside of the UK?

In total, we have just over 100 full-time members of staff spread across Football Manager, Football Manager Touch, and Football Manager Mobile and you’re right, many of them are based outside of the UK. We have a few out in the US, some in Ireland and Scandinavia, and one member of the team in Australia. In addition to the full-time members of staff, during the peak of the development cycle we’ll recruit several temporary testers to help us iron out bugs ahead of the game’s release. Some of these will stay on post-release too.

6.  How large would you estimate the FM community as a whole? Where can the largest number of users be found?

It’s difficult to put a figure on the size of the community as new FM-dedicated websites spring up frequently. In terms of our own official channels we have 1.1 million fans on Facebook, 220,000 followers on twitter and 54,000 followers on Instagram with different types of fan connecting with us on the various platforms. The largest number of users can still be found in the UK but we’re finding a number of emerging territories where FM is rapidly growing its user base such as Turkey and South Korea.

Artwork Courtesy of Sports Interactive and SEGA

7.  What short-and long-term goals does SI have for the FM series?

Short-term we want to continue delivering the most realistic and immersive football management simulation on the market with new additions that truly replicate what it feels like to be in the hotseat at a football club.

Longer term we’re really excited about evolving the game alongside real football. Seeing where the sport is going to be heading over the next few years and replicating that in the game and also incorporating external factors such as the final Brexit deal will be a really interesting challenge for us. I think the potential for us to continue improving the AI and graphics in the game in the years to come is exciting as well.

8.  Does it ever surprise you that there are several books and a documentary about a game?

Absolutely, especially when you consider that it’s a game that started out as the pet project of two guys in their bedroom. Like I said in my answer to your first question it’s those shared experiences that have enabled Football Manager to grow into what it is today. I can’t wait to hear about the creation of many more of those experiences in the years ahead.

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