Football Manager 2019 seeks to be the best installment in the franchise yet. With improvements across the board, developer Sports Interactive has removed the wheel-spinning feel of previous years and has built a game that has drawn widespread acclaim from fans and critics alike.
For Miles Jacobson, director of the Football Manager franchise, there’s never been a more exciting time to jump into the soccer management sim.
“I’ve been making games for more than 20 years and I always get excited when we release a game,” he told me. “But this year I’m more excited than I’ve ever been because I believe we’ve made the best and most immersive game that we’ve ever released. It’s fantastic to be able share something very special like that with the world.”
Out with the Old, In with the New
There’s plenty to be passionate about. A sleeker looking UI, tweaks to the game’s match engine, AI improvements, and other player requested features have successfully been implemented, alongside other notable changes. With so much new information packed into FM 19, however, newcomers to the franchise could feel a bit overwhelmed with the amount of data on offer. The inclusion of a “manager induction” feature, then, is a crucial new addition that introduces players to the game’s newest parts.
“Around 40% of the people who buy Football Manager every year are brand new to the series, so we decided quite early on in the development that we should overhaul the help system that previously existed,” Jacobson explained. “The inductions do a great job of introducing new players to the game by showing them the key areas in an intuitive way. They’re useful for experienced managers too, particularly the tactics and training inductions as those areas have seen massive changes this year.”
It’s these two latter areas that became the primary focus of FM 19’s overhaul. The changes to modern day soccer meant that Sports Interactive needed to make a product that closely resembled its real-life counterpart. The “FootTalks” sessions – informative sit down meetings with managers, directors of football, and other key personnel – helped the team redesign the training section, and proved vital in updating how the nitty-gritty aspect of training performs in the game.
“With training we made changes to the way individual training works, so rather than working on individual attributes you now ask them to train on areas of their game such as their play in the final third,” Jacobson elaborated. “The new mentoring aspect of training was heavily influenced from what we learned during one of the FootTalks. There are a number of different factors that affect a player’s training rating. This includes not only how hard someone is training, but also how suited they are to each session so different players will excel in different sessions. There may be other factors at play too, such as whether the player is training harder to try and force a way into your first team or if he wants a new contract.”
Improvements Equal Positive Feedback
The changing tactical landscape required Sports Interactive to give this aspect a revamp too. The player role roster has been expanded and tweaked, while the game’s AI will automatically assign the roles that are best suited to the formation and tactical style you wish your team to adopt. Jacobson insisted that it wasn’t just modern day soccer that was the decisive factor behind a revamp though, with the game’s in-built tactics also requiring a fresh perspective.
“It’s a bit of both really,” he acknowledged. “The transition has become such a huge part of modern football that we wanted to bring this to the forefront of tactics in FM 19, which then led us to splitting instructions out into “in possession”, “in transition” and “out of possession”. Another consideration was that we wanted to make the tactical system in the game more accessible to new users so, alongside the addition of tactical styles, we’ve simplified some mentality terms too.”
The reception to these improvements has been unequivocal among the fanbase. The recent FM 19 beta was met with extremely positive reviews, despite the bugs, crashes, and other technical issues that betas help to iron out.
“(This has been) quite simply the most positive that I’ve ever experienced,” Jacobson revealed. “The sentiment on social media has been massively positive, and on Steam the user reviews that we’ve had for the beta have been very positive. We’re incredibly grateful to everyone who has told us how much they’re enjoying the game so far.”
The European Impact
It isn’t all about new features in FM 19. Other areas have needed adjustments, such as the Brexit scenario which was first implemented in FM 18. The UK’s decision to part with the European Union – a break up that is due to occur in March 2019 – led to Sports Interactive’s inclusion of potential Brexit situations last year. This implementation surprised some, but offered an insight into the future of soccer and the issue of work permits in the UK. FM 19 has continued that trend, and the developers’ in-game ideas weren’t just reserved for the title itself either, with their influence being felt at a political level too.
“The most common form of Brexit in FM 19 is actually a brand new Brexit scenario that we added in this year,” Jacobson stated. “This particular scenario sees teams being given foreign player limits in their squads and new work permit rules introduced. I actually presented this scenario to the government as our recommendation for how Brexit should be applied in football.”
Germany’s leagues are finally officially licensed in the Football Manager series too. A first for the franchise, the addition of the Bundesliga and its sister leagues has excited fans who have longed for official clubs, players, and more from this nation. It’s a relief for Jacobson too who, after copyright laws prevented the game being sold in Germany, has a new market to tap into.
“We’re really excited to be finally available in Germany and we hope that our German fans enjoy the experience of FM,” he said. “The Bundesliga license is a big deal outside of Germany too – so many of the world’s best players ply their trade in the league and it’s a league packed with wonderkids which, obviously, is a part of the DNA of FM too.”
Looking to the Future
Football Manager’s draft mode, which has been part of the fabric for many years, makes for prime material for the esports scene. With this area of the games industry growing at an exceptional rate, Jacobson admitted that he would never close the door on an official esports competition after testing out the formula with in-house tournaments comprised of some of FM’s biggest content creators.
“We’ve dabbled with esports with a couple of events that we held last year, and we know there was a larger event at Insomnia last year which we weren’t officially involved with,” he said. “The addition of fantasy draft into the game a couple of years ago has breathed new life into the multiplayer side of FM too. We’d be open to delving further into the esports scene if the idea was right.”
With FM 19 ushering in a new era in the franchise, a changing of the guard was a necessity for Sports Interactive. The decision to retire the fabled “Manager Man”, who has adorned the front cover of Football Manager titles for a decade, was one that wasn’t taken lightly. It was, however, an alteration that was required. As sad as it was to close the door on his time as FM’s mascot, there’s plenty for him to fill his time with after a glittering career at the top, according to Jacobson.
“I’ve heard that he’s currently sitting on a beach in Barbados, sipping on a delicious cocktail, deciding what his next career move will be,” Jacobson quipped. “He’s likely waiting until Christmas to get a new job – the bonuses for keeping clubs up for experienced managers will likely tempt him back in!”