It's Football Manager Week at Bleacher Report, and Day 2 brings a review of the highly anticipated 2015 edition of the game from B/R lead writer and FM obsessive Jeremy Botter.
For a man who has undoubtedly put in 100-hour work weeks over the last few months, Miles Jacobson is awfully chipper.
Or perhaps it just feels that way to me, because it is 8:55 in the morning and I am struggling to wake myself up after yet another long night playing Football Manager 2015.
This is now a yearly routine for me. I am given early access to the game so that I may be fully prepared for the day when I am patched through to Jacobson's office by his London-based Sports Interactive switchboard. Upon receiving my Steam code, I immediately shun my friends, family and dog and begin playing the latest iteration of Football Manager.
Many months and hundreds of hours later, I realize I have lost the equivalent of an entire week or more to the football simulation. I wonder where the time went and whether my repeated ability to take Leeds United back to the Premier and then Champions League is any indication whether or not I, a nominally dumb American, know anything about football at all. And then I get on the phone with Jacobson, and I realize something: Here is a man who spends nearly every waking hour of his life working on this football simulation, and he's still enthusiastic about it all these years later.
This final week before Football Manager is released—it's due out on Friday morning via the Steam application—is a busy one for Jacobson in his team. A few years ago, before Steam came around, this would not have been the case. The game would already be out of his hands, pressed onto compact discs and stuffed into packaging for delivery around the world. But with Steam, the game can be constantly evolved and fixed and tweaked up until Thursday night. That's when Jacobson will hit a button on his phone that will allow the game to go live, around 11 p.m. UK time.
And that's when millions of diehard Football Manager devotees will download the game and begin their unique individual quests to manage a football team of their choosing to greatness. I am among them, though my Football Manager 2015 journey began a little earlier.
How do you improve upon a game that is already used by professional footballers around the world? Jacobson told Bleacher Report that over 700 real-life players had access to the game for two weeks before the media ever got its hands on the game. Outside of dealing with the usual negative remarks from players who believe their statistics are not high enough, Jacobson said the feedback from those who are actively involved in the real-life football world has been invaluable.
"It is absolutely imperative that we get it right. The game has now become a massive reference tool for football," Jacobson said. "It’s all quite strange. Football is a massive business. It’s important that we work closely with the leagues we work with. MLS, for example, making sure we have the commissions right and the expansion teams for next year."
Not all of the feedback is helpful, though. Especially when football agents are the ones giving the feedback. Jacobson references a recent call from an agent representing a footballer in League 2. The agent repeatedly said his player was good enough to be playing in the Championship and that his Football Manager stats were too low.
"If he is easily good enough to be playing in the championship, why isn’t he?," Jacobson said with a laugh.
Jacobson references the situation with Chivas USA, the recently dissolved Los Angeles club that was replaced by Los Angeles FC. His team had been informed by executives at MLS that something might be happening with Chivas, but it wasn't set in stone. So they were forced to code two results into the massive database: one where Chivas stuck around MLS and another where the team was dissolved and replaced by an expansion franchise.
As usual, Jacobson's scouting network is unparalleled in the football world. He counts roughly 1,300 scouts around the world on his current roster but said he's looking for ways to improve scouting in Africa and the Middle East.
"We want a lot more scouts in Africa and the Middle East. Those are two areas where we are quite weak," he said. "You have the Craig Bellamy academy in Sierra Leone. And in the Middle East you have countries spending so much more on sporting facilities."
Sports Interactive is also spending more on developing Football Manager than it has in the past. It's hired developers from Traveller's Tales and Maxis, among others, and the 2015 version of Football Manager sees the introduction of a new match engine with a much-requested feature: motion capture. On the surface, that means that this year's football game looks a lot more like a real football game. And that's just step one in a road map that Jacobson says will eventually, hopefully, lead to Football Manager matches being indistinguishable from the real thing you see on television.
Though this year's iteration of the visual match engine does not quite evoke thoughts of an actual television broadcast, it is a marked step up from recent engines. The players move in a much more natural manner, and goalkeepers have many animations at their disposal when feeding the ball out to their back line or punting it to the midfield. The lighting is improved, and it's not a stretch to imagine that Jacobson's vision of a game that looks just like the real thing will be a reality, eventually.
Also new in this year's game is an all-new design that lends itself to players finding things much easier. On the left-hand side of the screen, you'll find icons for almost every major action you can take in Football Manager. And at the top of the screen is Jacobson's personal favorite addition to the game: a "spotlight"-style search bar that evokes memories of Google, complete with auto-suggestions that help you find what you're looking for.
"Our auto-suggestions are not quite as naughty as what you'd find on Google or Bing, however," Jacobson said with a laugh.
Players also have the option of choosing their preferred managerial style. For the first time ever, you can opt to be a tactical or tracksuit manager. The tactical option, for players such as myself, allows you to focus on the big-picture part of managing a football club. You're still in control, but you allow your coaches to handle training and other day-to-day items. Want to jump into training and create customized routines for each of your players? You can do that, too. Just select the tracksuit option, and you'll be far more involved in the day-to-day management of the club.
These new layers add RPG elements to your career as a manager. As a tracksuit manager, you can go after various continental coaching licenses in the hopes of improving your coaching statistics. Or, like me, you can leave that stuff to others and try to take Everton to world domination in the simplest fashion possible.
There are countless improvements to the game. When I tell you there are too many to name, I am telling you the truth; there are simply too many to name. Sports Interactive filmed a 30-minute documentary simply to reveal some of the game's newest features, and it purposefully left many of them hidden for players to discover on their own.
And I have not discovered them all. Not yet, anyway. By this time next year, when I have lost entire days of my life to Football Manager 2015, I'll have a better idea of everything included here. But for now, I can tell you this is the best version of Football Manager I have played.
And since Football Manager is the greatest game the world has ever seen, that is high praise indeed.