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How Football Manager's creator is taking the beautiful game online

You're launching Football Manager Online in the Asian market first – is that simply because you're keen to broaden the game's reach to other territories, or because you think that style of game is more suited to an Asian audience?

There are a few different reasons for it. From an ego perspective, as a western developer, I want to break the east. I want to entertain people over there in the same way as we do here. To be fair, we already do with Football Manager, but no one pays for it, so we'd like to get paid for our work over there. Secondly, when we first started looking at free-to-play a number of years ago, when we first started work on this game, the market wasn't really there for it in the west, but it was there in the east.

Maybe if we hadn't spent four years making this bloody game then it wouldn't seem so weird that we were releasing it in the east first. It's a co-development between ourselves and a company that were called KTH, but now Sega have bought them and they're now called Sega Korea.

It is geared specifically towards a Korean audience, [rather than] an eastern audience. And the Koreans have certain ways that they play games. There's no other country in the world I can think of where on prime-time TV on a Saturday night, one of the main shows is people playing StarCraft; eSports over there is absolutely massive. So trying to get that element across, trying to have something for the type of person who wants to watch as well as play, was very important.

We're launching in Korea in January, and we'll then be looking at China next summer and a few other Asian territories. We'll then start looking at the west and see whether we think that the game can work over here. At the moment, I'm not convinced it can.

But from my understanding of the Asian market – and I spend a lot of time in Korea, because I'm out there every six or seven weeks – it's certainly the best online sports management game that will have been released out there. And there have been quite a few. You would be amazed how many online games are released in Korea that aren't released anywhere else in the world. So there is a very unique market over there that we want to tap into, simply because we want to be able to entertain as many people around the world as possible.

Football Manager

So your ultimate aim is to have your own Saturday night prime-time TV show with two managers competing against one another?

[Laughs] I'm not sure whether that would work or not. Actually, they do it with FIFA Online over there, as well as with StarCraft, and the stars aren't the teams that are playing, it is the managers. ESports is a fantastic thing that I do believe is going to be way bigger in the future than any of us imagine. It's something we've learned from working on the documentary.

Film and TV companies are a little bit scared of games, and don't really understand them, or the culture around them. You talk to them about eSports and they compare it to chess. Yet a recent eSports event at Wembley arena sold out. You've got 12,000 people in a massive hall basically watching people on a big screen playing a game. That's phenomenal. And they've realised this in Korea. They haven't realised it here yet. But it will happen.

Let's circle back to where we began: you've spent 20 years at Sports Interactive. Is the Prozone deal the ultimate validation of what you've achieved in those two decades?

We work with a lot of people in football, so it never ceases to amaze me some of the calls that we get. Like an agent phoning up basically wanting to know how much this club are paying a new guy they've just signed for £10m so he can go and ask the same for his client who's out of contract at the end of the season.

As for Prozone, when you've got a company that well known inside the game coming to you wanting to license your data to sell to football clubs, it's kind of bonkers. But that shows how hard the team here have worked over the years to get into that position, and how seriously we take the football side of what we do. The life-imitating-art-imitating-life circle is certainly there, and is something that I think none of us ever imagined would happen, but all of us are incredibly proud that it has.