Publisher Eidos has announced its plans for the future of the Championship Manager franchise following its highly publicised split from ChampMan creators and developers Sports Interactive.
The company plans to hand the development of the franchise off to a brand new development studio which it has established in North London, called Beautiful Game Studios, which is already working on a new iteration of the game for autumn 2004.
The first game in the series from BGS (which has currently been announced for the PC only, with console possibilities still under discussion) will be called Championship Manager 5, but the studio has to start from scratch with the game, since Eidos does not own the rights to any of the source code or player databases from the series.
Although work on the new game is thought to have started late last year, this is still an incredibly ambitious development schedule - with BGS effectively attempting to create in under a year, a game that will match the quality of Sports Interactive's efforts, which have been gradually refined in the 15 years since Paul and Oliver Collyer started working on Championship Manager.
"Beautiful Game Studios has assembled a very talented and experienced team to continue the phenomenal success of Championship Manager," enthuses Eidos' European managing director Jonathan Kemp in a statement today, which also points out that the team of 30 have worked on over 60 football-related games between them.
As is to be expected where a series as popular as Championship Manager is involved, however, further information about the team was quick to emerge today - with Internet rumours suggesting that the key team includes Steve Screech (of Kick Off fame, although more recent titles have been less successful) and many former Silicon Dreams staff, whose work includes a number of football titles including Acclaim's recently released Urban Freestyle Soccer.
Following the poor reception of the last Tomb Raider title, Eidos could be seen to be taking a major risk on one of its other major franchises with this announcement. While handing off the creation of a new game in the ChampMan series to an untested development studio ought to be enough to cause shareholder jitters at the best of times, compounding this by forcing such a tight timescale on the studio indicates either an incredible level of confidence in the abilities of the studio - or a belief that having a product out for Christmas is more important than the quality of the product.
If Eidos' thinking falls along the latter lines, it may well be in for a difficult time - as the future Championship Manager titles will have to compete with the next football management games from ChampMan creators Sports Interactive. SI is expected to announce details of its plans in the coming months, having already announced a publishing deal with Sega for its other sports management title, Eastside Hockey, and it's widely assumed that Sega has also snapped up the rights to the soccer title as well.
Although the Sports Interactive brand is certainly not as strong as the Championship Manager brand, it has significantly more recognition among fans of the genre than most developers - and combined with the marketing muscle of Sega, would pose a serious challenge for the lucrative football management genre.