Miles Jacobson is the studio director of Sports Interactive as well as the director of the Football Manager series. Jacobson initially joined the studio as a game tester for Championship Manager 2 and quickly became an integral part of the team ever since.
So, well, Football Manager 2025 will feature the use of Unity. Better animations, women’s football, it’s still far away, you know, because it’s next year. So, for Football Manager 2024, what should players expect on and off the pitch?
Miles Jacobson: So we’ve only released 1 blog so far for new features. There are another 7 to come and there’s a lot of new stuff in there which I’m not going to talk about until those blogs are released because it would be unfair for people. But so far we’ve spoken on the blog about a lot of the changes that we’ve made under the hood.
And when we were looking, I spoke about it in a blog earlier in the year about it being a love letter to Football Manager. It’s the last game in this particular series before we change things with Football Manager 2025. So in the same way as with our previous franchise, a lot of people still talk about CM 01/02 (Championship Manager: Season 01/02) and they still play that game because it was so polished. That’s what we’re trying to do.
There are lots of new features in there as well, don’t get me wrong. You’ll see in the next couple of days, a blog about agents and intermediaries and how they’re going to be playing a much more important role in the game to help you sell players in particular. This year’s been a lot about polishing it the best version of Football Manager that there has ever been.
But there are some nice surprises coming as well. So I can tell you about one of those surprises now. But this is embargoed until 5 PM today. Very, very important. J League 1, J League 2, and J League 3 (Japanese Football League) are fully licensed and playable inside Football Manager for the first time. It’s been the most requested league we’ve ever had. It’s taken us 19 years to get this license that we’ve been trying.
So there’ll be lots of new stuff. Some very smart people have noticed in some of the screenshots that the lighting in the match engine looks a lot better. They’re right, we’ll be showing that off as well. There are lots of other things in the match engine so we’re really excited about the game this year but we want people to see the blogs and read them.
So hopefully we can deliver the best experience possible this year with more leagues than ever before, more languages than ever before, more platforms than ever before, PlayStation 5 Day 1 with Netflix, and Football Manager Mobile as well. So with Football Manager 2023, we had the most players we’ve ever had, we’re over 6 million players, and 2 million games sold. With Football Manager 2024 that’s going to go up even more as well, so it’s a very exciting time for us. And then Football Manager 2025, we’re setting the bar very high for what we’re trying to do with FM25.
We’ve got a special video about the J-League. So it’ll be a video. 5 o’clock in Asia. It’s 9 o’clock UK. So we’re doing a simultaneous thing. And it shows how important Asia has become for us, right, as an area that we had to time it so that the UK is announcing at the same time. And that Japan, for an Asian league, it shows how far Asian football has gone in the whole world, that there are just as many people in Europe excited about this as there are in Asia.
So the ability to transfer game saves, and save data. So, it’s a huge game changer, right? And does this reflect Football Manager’s first steps into a live service nature?
Miles Jacobson: Okay, so… Hear me out on this. We are already a live service. So our game is in Game Pass. Our game is in Apple Arcade. This year, we’re on Netflix for the first time. And we’ve learned a lot about being in Game Pass and Apple Arcade. And we’ve been really successful in them. I’m really proud of how many more people are playing the game.
We’ve always spoken historically about sales figures, right? And we’re quite open about that. We sell 2 million games a year. I celebrate it on social media. This year we’ve got 6 million players. So we’ve sold 2 million. We’ve got 6 million players. It’s huge, okay?
Netflix will get even more players, which is going to be even better for us to get to entertain more people. So we already have a mindset of thinking like a service, but we think about the service annually rather than thinking about the service weekly like a lot of free-to-play games do.
The save game compact thing completely came about because of us thinking like a service. Because when we were thinking, and we’ve wanted to do it for a long time, but we were looking at consumers who were playing the game on Game Pass and Football Manager 2020, whichever version of the game is, would come off Game Pass and the new version would come onto Game Pass and all of a sudden, that person who spent 9 months playing their game, had 2 weeks to either buy the game or they were going to lose that save forever. That’s not fair!
They spent a lot of time playing that game and it was part of them, and we didn’t want to force people to have to then go and buy the game. That’s not fair. They’re paying for a subscription service. Why should they pay twice? Which I know is terrible business, right? I should be turning around and going, “Oh yeah, oh this is brilliant with forcing them all to go and buy the game“.
But that’s just not how we think. Again, it goes back to how hard people work to be able to afford to buy the game or to subscribe to one of these services.
So the thought process was, and as I said, we wanted to do this for a long time, but it then became a priority of how do we do this? How do we make it so that people who are playing on Game Pass are able to seamlessly carry on playing their game? How do we make it so that people playing on Apple Arcade can seamlessly carry on playing the game? And then it was and how do we get people who’ve spent 2,000 hours playing on their PC to want to move and play the next game rather than sticking to the previous year’s game because they were in love with their save? So that bit’s clever on the business side, the rest of it isn’t.
So you’re absolutely right to say is this part of games as a service. It is, but it’s not the future, it’s now. So for now, we continue and are planning to continue to be annual. We’ve looked at other business models, can’t sit here and say that we haven’t. Because we have, but we’ve decided that this is the right way for now to happen.
You know, if you told me 5 years ago that there was going to be a huge pandemic that was going to cause everyone to be at home for 2 years in Europe, I would have told you that you were crazy, right? You never know what’s going to happen in the future, but for now, we’re happy doing our new iterations, and yeah, just hoping that people enjoy the game even more and being able to take that game, load it in the next game, be introduced to the new features and just carry on with their career.
The Franchise has been going strongly from year to year for a long time now. Aside from players’ feedback, what have been some of the reasons behind your thinking about the approach to development for Football Manager 2024?
Miles Jacobson: So it’s not just the player feedback, it’s also the people who work in the world of football, incredibly close to the football world. We see ourselves as a football company as much as we do a games company. So we have over 3,000 footballers who help us alpha test the game each year. We also have a series of talks inside the studio where I get to be a journalist and ask managers, coaches, scouts, and directors of football questions which gets broadcast to the whole studio.
There are questions about features that we’re thinking about working on in the future to get their ideas and their input because when you’re simulating the football world, you have to be talking to people in football all the time and trying to predict what’s going to happen in football. So we don’t always manage to predict it.
This year, the Saudi League has taken us by surprise, for example, so we’ve had to program that in. Pep Guardiola (Football Manager of Manchester City) always takes us by surprise by coming up with new roles and new ways to play, and sometimes we can’t react quickly, and sometimes it takes us a year. But yeah, as you pointed out, we take our consumer feedback into account really seriously.
Our consumers spend a lot of time playing our games, but they also work incredibly hard to earn the money to be able to play our games. And that means a lot to us. It means that we can carry on with our passion, which is making fantastic football management simulations. Feel free to come back with any follow-up.
So there’s no doubt the community has been a big part of the success of Football Manager. So when it comes to design, how does a team balance its wants and needs both from internal and external sources?
Miles Jacobson: Okay, so believe it or not we didn’t have a design department until 3 years ago. So up until that point, everything was being driven by me as the game director and the team would chip in with things, and we have this huge database of features that we go through each year and look at the priorities of them.
When COVID started we had to change the way that we made games because while every other studio was slipping by 6 months or a year, we had deadlines to hit. I’m still disappointed that that first year in the pandemic, we were 2 weeks later than we wanted to be.
Then we have a design department and it’s very, very collaborative. I still sit at the top, so I still decide exactly what features go in and what don’t, but I’m working incredibly closely with a guy called Ant on the production side, Remy on the creative side, and we have brainstorming sessions, 3 or 4 times a week where we just sit there and talk about what we want to change when looking at all the feedback from people all the time.
So it’s a constant process throughout the year, but not just looking at Football Manager 2024. We’re talking about Football Manager 2025. We’re talking about Football Manager 2026 recently as well, with some of the features that will take longer than a year to do. But the feedback that we get from the consumers is really important.
The communications team, they are also part of Sports Interactive. So we’re constantly in touch with what’s going on on the forums and online on social media, which has become so important, and looking at that on a global basis. We actually have a community manager based in South Korea, who looks after a lot of the Asian stuff. We’ve got someone based in China. We’ve got someone based in Turkey, and someone based in Germany. So we’re looking at a lot of the feedback, even in languages that I can’t read and I understand to find out what the needs are for our consumers.
But we have to balance that with having some features that actually sell the game, which is really important each year to be able to go, “Hey, this is new. There’s new. That’s new. This is new. That’s improved. This is improved. That one is improved. Thank you, community. You feel feedback. We’ve added this feature for you and for you“.
So that tends to be a split of around a third that comes from the studio, a third that’s improvements, and a third directly from the community feedback. But we listen to everything and we will get to everything eventually as long as we agree with it. We don’t always agree with the feedback that we get.
So what is the role of the latest technologies such as artificial intelligence in enhancing the experience of playing football?
Miles Jacobson: Football Manager has been driven by artificial intelligence even before it was called Football Manager (previously called Championship Manager). If you think about the way the match engine works, decisions are made on the pitch by every single player on the pitch, every one-quarter of a second, based on all of their attributes, every player acts differently, and every manager acts differently. So yeah, we’ve been working with AI for a long time.
However, obviously what you’re talking about here is the next generation of AI and things like ChatGPT, right? Maybe, I think the Football Manager is AI in football when it builds, right? Yeah, so we’re part of that revolution.
So we’re working with some clubs about on the data side of things. It’s no secret that we work with a lot of clubs on data and they use our data and build algorithms on top of that. But we have been doing a lot of work in the background on AI and the next generation of AI and the possibilities of it.
It’s something I can’t talk about yet because it’s not in Football Manager 2024. There will be some stuff in Football Manager 2025 that I will be able to talk about and there will be more, as I mentioned earlier, there’ll be more in there. But one of the problems and one of the things that I don’t think people necessarily understand about the AI systems that there are out there or OpenAI as I call it because we’re working with that version rather than the publicly available thing.
From a game’s perspective, unless the business models change, that’s going to be pretty difficult to use. In the same way, if I wanted to have Google Maps in the game, to be able to zoom in on football grounds, and every time I wanted to get a new football ground, I would get charged for that. So how is that paid for? By the consumer at the end of the day, or do we go bankrupt from doing that? So having that stuff directly in the game probably won’t work and probably won’t be there for another decade.
But utilizing those systems for more variation or using those systems to help aid translations, for example, to allow us to add more languages further down the line. It would certainly be easier to do translations via ChatGPT than it would be to take 2 years to do the Japanese translation that we’ve just announced. So we’re thinking about it and there are lots of possibilities but I think it’s not as easy as some people think it’s going to be to incorporate this stuff inside video games with our current business model.
So Football Manager’s transfer system has been improving and improving every single year, right? Can you tell us what was the main difference between Football Manager 2024 and Football Manager 2023?
Miles Jacobson: Some of the stuff we’ve spoken about already in the blog and we’ve spoken about the way that we haven’t been happy and the community haven’t been happy with the way that AI squads get built.
We’ve made a lot of changes to that to make those more intelligent or in some cases actually make them more stupid. Because if you’ve got a manager who isn’t very good and he plays bad tactics but they’re signing all the best players and putting them into bad tactics well… that doesn’t feel that realistic doing that.
So there have been cases where people who play with 1 striker end up signing 5 strikers. Well, why does that happen? That wouldn’t happen in real life. So it’s looking at a lot of things like that and making sure that we’ve improved those. But there are other frustrations that we hear as well, particularly regarding selling players.
We will talk a lot about agents. But there are different ways to sell footballers in real life that have become more important in the last few years. Rather than agents just looking after footballers, agents or intermediaries as they’re called, will often have players that they are trying to sell for other clubs. So that’s something that’s been brought into the game, that you can hire an intermediary who has more knowledge, knows more people at more clubs than you do, to try and increase the reach of players. But it’s going to cost you a percentage of the money if you want to do that. So there’s also a new industry partner, which I’m not going to tell you about today, that we’re working with that makes it more realistic with the way that you’re doing things.
So we’re constantly looking at ways to improve in that area and I think people are going to be pretty happy when they do see exactly what we’re doing to help them sell players, tying in with what we’ve done to help them, and the AI teams buy players and build more realistic squads for their tactics.
Do you have any message to share with our readers and Football Manager fans?
Miles Jacobson: Well, what I always find incredible about doing this every year is we get more players every year. We get more fans every year, we get better feedback every year, and we get to entertain people around the world.
And through difficult times as well, people use Football Manager as an escape from their real world. I’m really lucky, I love my job.
Football Manager 2024
We would love to thank Director Miles Jacobson for taking the time to answer our questions regarding Football Manager 2024.
As revealed in this interview and during the Tokyo Game Show 2023, J.League will be making its debut in Football Manager 2024 and you can read more about them here.
Football Manager 2024 launches on 7 November 2023 for the PlayStation 5, PlayStation 4, Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, and Windows PC.
This interview was edited for clarity.