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A Beautiful Mind - Part Two

BGS general manager Roy Meredith on the importance of community and the market for PC gaming

In the first part of the interview with Beautiful Game Studios general manager Roy Meredith, he talked candidly about the challenges ahead for the Championship Manager brand.

Here in part two he explains the importance to the game of the community, and his thoughts on the state of PC gaming.

GamesIndustry.biz Electronic Arts announced a system for FIFA whereby they're updating the game's statistics regularly throughout the season. For management titles the traditional data updates come after the two international transfer windows in August and January - what are your thoughts on live updates for management titles?
Roy Meredith

I love it. I'd love to get to a stage where we update frequently in a number of different ways. Not just on database, but updating bits that come in from key features for instance. I would love to do that.

Obviously with a game that's management based, and fixated around the database... the database is the backbone of any football management game - that's so important to us, so we're moving towards strengthening that.

We've upweighted our internal research team so we've got 50 per cent growth in-house. We're upweighting our network of volunteers across the world - we've got quite a substantial amount, I don't know the actual numbers, but that's certainly grown by about 50 per cent since I've been here as well.

So the database is hugely important, and the worst thing I've had to do in this job without a shadow of a doubt was - when we're in a situation where we know how much dev effort needs to go in a game - in January we had to take the decision not to release a patch for CM08. We had to put that out into the community, we had to announce it to people.

I wrote personal messages to a lot of people in the community as well, personal messages, to explain why - that was the worst decision I've had to take, because as a fan I know how much I'd have been looking forward to the January transfer update.

We couldn't do it because we were all hands-on gearing up towards the next iteration, but I don't want to go through that ever again - because it's not fair on the consumer.

So I do think that's important - if we can get a game that we can update frequently then I think the consumers will be happier that there's more innovation over a longer period of time. I think that's massively important for us.

GamesIndustry.biz We've talked to a number of developers recently - studios such as Media Molecule - they look at their title as more of a service than a game. Some of those things you say there do speak to a service mentality. Is that where games are moving generally?
Roy Meredith

I hope so. I think The Sims is just a devastatingly brilliant model for games whereby if you go to a place like MalloftheSims.com in the States, and as a consumer to be able to download a new pair of pants, or a Picasso picture - automatically your game is in essence different.

That's what I'd like to think that games can move towards, a much more bespoke solution for what you want in a football management game. How do we make experiences different? I'd love to be able to do that, because that really engenders what people want, and rewards them.

And how do you give them options to make it more accessible for themselves as well? Plus personalisation - how do you allow the community to do that? People put so much effort into games, and patches, and editors - how do we make it so they get a really rewarding, personalised experience from it?

That's what part of our long term planning is, I think - creating that bespoke solution.

GamesIndustry.biz How do you look at the community now - what's your impression of who the ChampMan community is at the moment, and how has it changed?
Roy Meredith

Well, politically within the community we lost a huge amount of people to FM, and you understand why. I think the people bought ChampMan 5 out of loyalty and curiosity, then saw the quality and felt the future was FM.

At that point I'd say they were quite right as well.

GamesIndustry.biz When something like that happens, do you just have to put it down to experience and move on?
Roy Meredith

Yes, we've got to bring a whole new bunch of fans into Championship Manager. We've got some very loyal fans out there, people who have played ChampMan for years and stick with it because it gives them something - maybe they don't get with FM?

But we do have to bring in a whole new community and nurture it. The community, as with any game, is so vital to us - that's our bedrock, it's the people who will evangelise the game for us. We need to talk to people and for them to come back and notice the difference.

I don't think there's anybody in world, if they classify themselves as a racing fan, just goes out and buys Gran Turismo, or just goes and buys Project Gotham - they buy a number of games. There's no reason why we can't give people a strong reason to believe in Championship Manager again, whether they're FM fans, existing CM fans, or new fans - we just need to be able to nurture them and give them several reasons to stay.

The quality of the game, the strength of the brand, the fact that we're doing the right things, the fact that we've got licenses in the game that add that credibility and realism, the database is strong, their ability to communicate with us and other fans. The community is the heart of all of that, and I don't want that to sound like waffly marketing crap - it's not. We haven't got anybody if we don't have the community on our side.

We've still got a large number of people that come into our website and forums - not as big as Football Manager, but Football Manager is a great example of having a community and nurturing it - keep talking to them, keep them talking to each other, and we're at very early stages of that.

It's almost like we're beginning again, but we've got a foundation - we've got a huge brand name, we've got a community that's there albeit in smaller numbers. Certainly there's something to build upon, so we're much luckier than building a new franchise.

GamesIndustry.biz Atari president David Gardner told GamesIndustry.biz previously that he considered Atari to be the "best-funded, best-branded, most energetic start-up in the history of computer gaming" - sounds similar to your thinking on ChampMan?
Roy Meredith

Yes - yes, it's exactly the same. I love David, DG is an inspiration to me. I worked with him at EA and he's one of the nicest people. We're a microcosm, in a similar situation to them.

I actually think, like Atari, there's another parallel - I think people really do want Championship Manager to succeed - we know that. But they're not going to buy something that frustrates them, that looks poor, that plays badly, that doesn't reward them. But if we give them those things, I know exactly how many people are out there that would come back, or come into, the franchise.

I don't want to steal any consumer from Football Manager. In fact, I hope they sell 3 million units every year - so long as I can sell just about the same, I'd be perfectly happy. More or less, I don't care, I just want to have a really profitable, really strong franchise and game that's out there.

GamesIndustry.biz A number of people have jumped on the 'death of PC gaming' bandwagon in the past - do you see a problem there as far as Championship Manager is concerned, or is it as strong as it's ever been?
Roy Meredith

I think we're fine. I understand that the PC market is slimming down, but that's because of certain games that now are better suited to console. But strategy games - and we are a strategy game - have never worked well on console. I hate Lord of the Rings as a franchise, I thought the EA game was genius on PC, but it didn't work on Xbox 360. Command and Conquer has just been binned by EA - USD 5 million for a PlayStation 3 development...

Strategy games don't work on console, and people love strategy games. So I don't think it's relevant for us. I understand the market's shrinking - we've got to fight back as an industry and tailor things correctly - but seriously, there are so many Sims and Spore games being sold on PC... I don't see it shrinking that much. World of Warcraft - that does alright, makes a profit... [smiles]

And there are new markets - Brazil, Russia, India, China - we've got to look at those, how we get a sensible business model there, which we're looking at. So consoles - I don't know. If you've got any ideas of how you can make Championship Manager work on consoles, let me know. Looking at a page of stats [on console] - it doesn't work.

But there are avenues on the PC, so it doesn't worry me.

Roy Meredith is general manager at Beautiful Game Studios. Interview by Phil Elliott.