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30 great developers: Sports Interactive

How a pair of students created gaming crack

There are some out there who might label Sports Interactive a one-trick pony, but when your pony does a trick as impressive as Football Manager (previously Championship Manager) who needs a stable of versatile steeds?

Although the London-based studio only has one key franchise to its name (and a couple of sports management games to satisfy our friends across the pond) it's a developer whose titles have had a monumental affect on so many players' lives, and continue to dominate PC sales charts decades after its formation.

It also commands a fanbase which includes many people who wouldn't be considered traditional gamers. "We have our niche and have seen many other management game brands come and go over the years, so maybe people respect that," reflects studio director Miles Jacobson.

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OVERVIEW

Founded: 1997
Location: London
Killer quote: "The 'PC market is dying' stories are rubbish... certain genres don't do well on PC anymore because they're better on consoles." - Miles Jacobson

KEY PEOPLE

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Paul and Oliver Collyer

"We lived in the middle of f***ing nowhere and there was bugger all else to do apart from shag sheep."

As far as reasons for developing a world changing game go, it's not the most orthodox of explanations, but it's the one cited by Championship Manager and FM co-creator Oliver Collyer. Older brother Paul is slightly more reserved, but concurs that the game did indeed come about "possibly because of the amount of time we had on our hands in deepest Shropshire!"

Fans of early football management sims, the Collyer brothers decided to have a crack at creating their own take on the genre while studying at Leeds University - and right there the seeds of Champ Man were planted.

But as they recall, the Championship Manager story nearly ended before it had even begun, when Oliver's uni gaff was ransacked by burglars. Luckily, he'd decided to hide his hard drive...

"I snuck it under my wardrobe before we went out for the evening," he told PC Zone. "The burglars took everything else but didn't find the hard drive which had the back-ups on it. They took loads of CDs though, the bastards."

Following the break-up of their partnership with original publisher Eidos Interactive, Sports Interactive lost the naming rights and re-branded the game Football Manager with their new publishing partner Sega.

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Miles Jacobson
Miles Jacobson is the studio director at Sports Interactive and is currently the face and voice of Football Manager, keeping players up to date via Twitter and blogs throughout the games' development.

Miles started his career in the music industry and slowly but surely shifted towards his current games role after dealing with the licensing of game soundtracks, including that of PlayStation classic Gran Turismo.

Jacobson was awarded an OBE this year for services to the computer games industry. He called the honour "very humbling" and "further recognition for the whole SI team around the world".

3 SI GAMES WE LOVE

Championship Manager 4

The release of Championship Manager 4 is the single most important gaming event this year. CVG, 2003

With the franchise well established amongst football crazy gamers in 2003, Championship Manager 4 already had a strong platform from which to launch its campaign.

But the fourth iteration of the popular management sim had something of a frenzy surrounding it because it was the first in the series to contain moving parts.

Championship Manager had, up to that point, been a series of 'glorified spreadsheets' and sliders with tickertape commentary delivering the consequences.

With number four, Sports Interactive introduced a top-down match engine showing play in real time. Sure, the players were little more than 22 dots roaming the field, but now wannabe managers could assess the action themselves, rather than rely on textual commentary.

The excitement for the significant new feature meant that Championship Manager 4 became the fastest selling PC game of all time.

Football Manager 2005

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In 2004 Sports Interactive split from publisher Eidos and signed a new deal with Sega. The developer was forced to leave the well established Championship Manager name behind and chose to continue the franchise under the Football Manager name.

While Eidos continued to use the Champ Man brand to make football management games with Beautiful Game Studios, by the time Football Manager 2005 came it was clear which name the original Sports Interactive team was working behind.

It may not have been the biggest step forward in the series, but Sports Interactive's football management sim survived a publisher split and a name change while maintaining momentum as the success of 'Championship Manager' dwindled.

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