Sports Interactive and the impact of COVID-19
It’s a bit of an understatement to say that 2020 has been a difficult year so far, and although we at Sports Interactive have had it easier than many, it’s still been a tough time for the studio.
We have enjoyed some advantages, though. Our revenue hasn’t disappeared entirely (as it has done for many businesses) and we’ve been able to do a number of things we otherwise may not have considered. For example, we allowed people to play FM20 for free for a fortnight back in March and took part in a bunch of charity initiatives including the UKIE-managed ‘Games for Carers’ programme and the Humble Black Lives Matter bundle. During this period, we’ve also provided free in-game advertising to a number of mental health charities around the world, which was particularly important to me as I believe that this disruption to everyone’s normal way of living could have serious mental health consequences if we’re not careful. Throughout all of this, though, record numbers of players have chosen to spend their own lockdown with one or more of our games… which is something we’re very grateful for.
Something else I’m very grateful for is that, rather than finding ourselves having to lay people off during this crisis, we’ve actually accelerated our hiring programme over the past few months and I’m incredibly proud that we have introduced more than 20 new members to the SI team since lockdown began… and we’re not finished yet (check out the open roles on our recently-refreshed studio website).
Most importantly of all, though, we have continued to work on our games throughout this troubled period – and we’ve managed to do this despite not being together in our office since early March. Having a ‘distributed’ workforce isn’t new to us, as some of the team have worked remotely for decades, but moving the entire team to work from home was a huge challenge. Everyone’s personal situation is different, and our main priority as a studio was to ensure that the whole team and their families remained safe, healthy and happy. After that, our priority was to ensure that every team member was able to continue to work effectively (while taking their home situation into account) so that we could continue to create and deliver great games. We’re now in a position where we’re set up to continue to work in this fashion for as long as it takes. None of us know when things will return to ‘normal’, but I would be very surprised if we’re all back in the studio working together until well into next year.
It would be great to say that this whole process has been easy, but the truth is that we’ve learned over the course of this bizarre and unprecedented global crisis that it’s a lot easier to make games when the bulk of the team are working in close physical proximity.
It’s not just been harder from a production perspective – it doesn’t help that the world of football that we aim to simulate in our games is also in such a world of flux. Some leagues have confirmed their plans, some are still up in the air (although we are very much ‘in the loop’ with many of the possible decisions), the transfer window has moved in England at least, there are new emergency rules that may, or may not, be present next season. And there’s a lot more besides.
That all said, the team have done an absolutely incredible job in the circumstances and I couldn’t be prouder of them or prouder to be a part of the team.
We’ve been very quiet about future plans throughout this period, but then I never like us to talk about our plans until everything is definitively settled. I know that frustrates some of our fans, but it’s a policy that’s worked well for us in the 25+ years we’ve been making games. What I can confirm today is that, despite all the problems going on in the world, there will be new Football Manager games released later this year. They will be delivered a little later than we’d originally planned, but they’ll have exceptionally strong feature sets… albeit different to those we thought we’d settled on back in January when I completed my ‘dream feature set’.
It has taken a monumental effort to make this possible. The flexibility the team have shown through this period has been incredible; we’ve been changing scope, both upwards and downwards, on an almost weekly basis (and often as a result of changes in people’s personal circumstances). I firmly believe you’ll all appreciate the improvements and new features this year – and for us to have created the games that we’re going to deliver later this year during a global pandemic is something else I’m very proud of.
Our games will be on more platforms and available on more stores than ever before when they’re released later this year but, with regards to features and release dates, it’s a little too early for us to talk about the specifics right now. Please cut us a little bit of slack and rest assured that we will once again deliver a set of games that provide hundreds of hours of entertainment and remain the best value for money on the market – and something to help you escape from the real world at the moment, at least for a while.
We look forward to returning to something approaching normality in the (hopefully) near future, but, for now, we’re doing everything we can to continue keeping you entertained in the manner that only Football Manager can.