Jacobson's studio split from Eidos in 2003, leaving the publisher with the Championship Manager IP which it passed to a new internal team, Beautiful Game Studios. The following year, Sports Interactive signed a publishing deal with Sega that birthed the Football Manager series, and Sega fully acquired the studio in 2006.
The Sports Interactive studio director had never publicly addressed the split – until yesterday, at the GameHorizon conference in Newcastle Gateshead, during a 'fireside chat' with Eidos life president Ian Livingstone. He explained why the studio took the difficult decision to go it alone and rebrand its core product as Football Manager.
“During our times with Eidos and Domark [the firm’s precursor] there were some run-ins. But legally I’m not allowed to talk about this unless I get permission,” said Miles. He was then given the nod to answer by Livingstone.
He felt Eidos had unfairly lined up a team to take over the development of Championship Manager; Livingstone claimed the publisher was simply preparing for a split amid rumours Sports Interactive was planning to break away.
“I’m sure there are two sides to this story,” Jacobson continued. “We have never spoken about in the past. At the time we felt there was a lack of respect that we did for our work from Eidos.
“There seemed to be an attitude at the time in the industry that anyone could make games.”
Jacobson argued that demands for higher developer royalties reflected the fact Sports Interactive shared risks with the publisher by falling short of asking for advances to cover the full development costs.
“Eidos wanted more control. We wanted more control. We were asking for high royalties,” said Jacobson. Eidos set up Beautiful Game Studios nine months before Championship Manager 4 was due to come out. They told me that BGS were making a platform game. I thought our number was up."
Livingstone commented that Eidos was "preparing for the future as there was a rumour SI was looking to leave”. Jacobson categorically denied that he had spoken to any other publishers at that point.
With series creators Paul and Ov Collyer, Jacobson has overseen the game’s rebranding as Football Manager, a move into mobile gaming and the launch of Football Manager Online – and the studio is now planning a move into the free-to-play market.
“Looking back I wouldn’t change what we did,” Jacobson told us after the session. “A developer can’t go through anything bigger than breaking up a brand that took 11 years to build. I can’t believe there is anything more stressful for a developer.
“I collapsed at E3 when the final decision to leave was made. It was partly because I had glandular fever, and partly down to the stress.”
Since the split Sports Interactive’s staff has grown from 35 to 70 and they have just taken on two producers: Jamie Bailey to handle the GUI and Mark Nutt, to work on handhelds.
SI is now in the hands of troubled Sega, whose parent company Sega Sammy is restructuring its loss-making game business. Jacobson's team should be safe, however – Football Manager was named as an example of the sort of proven IP on which the new-look Sega is to focus. During the session, Jacobson recalled the day Sega first signalled its intent to acquire his studio.
“I went for a curry with the CEO of Sega in Japan and Europe and he made me an offer on a napkin,” he said. “I kept telling them we were not for sale. I told them they would have to double the offer for me to even discuss it with Paul and Ov.”
The next day, Sega more than doubled the price it was willing to pay for a game which had shifted 1.5 million units in two iterations from a standing start. “I told Paul and Ov as my best mates that they weren't going to get another opportunity like this to secure their families’ future," he said.
“And I told them I was sure I could get a clause that would enable us to retain our independence.”
Jacobson followed through and secured the clause, meaning that, while the trio are at SI, they can operate largely as they did prior to the sale. Sports Interactive will unveil the latest iteration of Football Manager in the autumn, which Jacobson says will feature “less conservative” design than in the past.