Sports Interactive, the London-based development studio behind the hugely successful Championship Manager football management games, has announced that it is to end its publishing relationship with Eidos.
The parting of ways will see Sports Interactive developing one further game for Eidos - Championship Manager Season 03/04 - after which it will no longer work on the franchise.
Although SI owns all of the code and the player database, Eidos owns the Championship Manager brand , and the company plans to continue developing games under that name - with a new studio being established in London for exactly that reason.
Sports Interactive, for its part, will be announcing its plans for new football titles in early 2004 - and already has a second iron in the fire, with a hockey simulation game close to completion.
"If this were the music industry, we would be talking about a classic case of 'musical differences'," explained Sports Interactive MD Miles Jacobson. "We've enjoyed an excellent relationship with Eidos for many years now and will work closely with them to make sure that our final collaboration is the best version of CM ever."
Eidos European managing director Jonathan Kemp, meanwhile, is putting a brave face on the loss of the company's most successful developer. "Moving the development of Championship Manager to our newly-created internal studio will enable us to build upon the phenomenal success of the game and develop the brand further," he claims.
However, it's hard to see how Eidos will manage to deliver anything up to CM's standard in time for a Season 04/05 release of the game - with Sports Interactive's legendary player database being a major stumbling block for whoever takes on the mantle of CM development. Asked this morning by our sister site Eurogamer.net whether the developer would consider licensing its database back to Eidos for the next CM project, Jacobson said "they could do if we were prepared to license it to them," but "we haven't been approached by them for that to happen."
The fortunes of a Championship Manager not developed by Sports Interactive, and a Sports Interactive football game not called Championship Manager, will be interesting to track at retail. Conventional industry wisdom suggests that most consumers will reach for the established brand regardless of developer; if this turns out not to be the case, it will be a wake up call for publishers to re-evaluate how they conduct business with their development studios.
Additional reporting by Tom Bramwell