Football Manager is one of those games that now feels like an institution. I play the newest entry and, even though it's a much-improved and more sophisticated experience, I am still in some sense a teenage boy at a beige PC with my treasured copy of Championship Manager 97/98. I've been playing some version of this game on-and-off for a quarter of a century.
Sports Interactive was founded in 1994 and has specialised in this one game ever since (with a few short-lived forays into hockey and baseball management). It has built a huge and loyal fanbase devoted to the Football Manager series, and has established the game as such an accurate simulation of the real world that it is now used in aspects of the sport (hell, there are even pro managers who credit the game with their careers).
So the news that Football Manager 2024 has become the best-selling entry in series history feels both unsurprising and richly deserved. Sports Interactive has announced that last week saw the game record "its seven millionth player" which beats the previous record of 6.88 million players set by Football Manager 2023. SI notes that the latter figure was achieved over that game's lifespan, but "FM24 broke that record in less than 100 days."
The studio's statement cites various factors that helped in reaching this figure, including its first official release in Japan alongside console, mobile and Netflix releases. SI's studio director Miles Jacobson says hitting seven million players "in barely three months gives me and everyone at the studio enormous pride."
It's put Jacobson in something of a philosophical mood about SI's journey. "From a game originally made for fun by [SI co-founders] Paul and Ov Collyer in their Shropshire bedroom," says Jacobson, "to a studio pursued and purchased by SEGA, and now being embedded in the world of football and being partnered with some of the globe’s biggest clubs, competitions and brands—riding out all the ups and downs in the industry along the way—is truly mind blowing."
Over recent years Jacobson and SI have been going full-bore on making the game as accessible as possible, and its current major focus is a multi-year project to add women's football. Jacobson points out that language support for places like China, Japan and South Korea have resulted in Asia now making up "20% of our audience", and SI has embraced every platform possible including subscription services "in a way that no other studio has."
Jacobson is rightly proud of Football Manager's growth over the last four years, "from celebrating two million players in 2020 to seven million in 2024" and pays tribute to SI's "amazing team" and the "incredible community of players that we first started talking to directly in the internet’s infancy in the early '90s."
Jacobson's nicest moment, however, is when we forget about all the big numbers and the scale of the global game for a moment, and get back to what Football Manager means for the individual player.
"A lot of things haven’t changed [throughout SI's history]," says Jacobson. "One is the reason we make games. People work very hard to earn the money to buy our games, often in jobs they don’t like and we provide their escape. We, as we did when I first got involved 30 years ago back in 1994, want to make the best value-for-money games on the planet, and provide people with a world where they can create football stories and live out their dreams."