Game developer Jon Hare has had a long and storied career crafting acclaimed games across a great many genres. Best known for his sports titles, he's now working alongside his team at Tower Studios and Combo Breaker on the newly released Sociable Soccer.
Last week at Pocket Gamer Connects London, we sat down to discuss how the arcade football hit has come along since launching for Apple Arcade late last year and where it's maybe headed next.
A little intro
"I'm Jon Hare. I used to be an owner of Sensible Software, which we ran from 1986 to 1999. The first football game I ever worked on was called MicroProse Soccer, which was the top football game on the Commodore 64 in 1988. Then we did Sensible Soccer in '92 and Sensible World of Soccer in '94, and at that time the Sensible Soccer series was incredibly successful on Amiga, Mega Drive, etc. To date, I've worked on ten football games, one tennis game, two golf games, a rugby game, and three boxing games. I've got a lot of experience making sports titles, but I've actually made over 90 games in total throughout my career. Football has always been my main focus, though."
What is the current state of the game?
"We've been developing Sociable Soccer for years. It's a totally cross-platform game in the long-term. But, for now, we're focusing on Apple Arcade. We launched late last year with our publisher, Rogue. We're putting out updates very regularly – our latest launched recently. We've made some massive improvements already to the player experience, including tightening controls. The game is making big strides forward every few weeks. Most recently, we launched PvP, which is what everyone is playing and talking about at the moment."
"It's a new launch; there are things we're still discovering. This game should be getting better and better, which is the same pattern Sensible Soccer followed. Sociable Soccer is an organic football franchise that is going to be growing over the next few years."
What sets Sociable Soccer apart from the competition?
"We wanted to make a football title that could work for touchscreens and controllers, that has online components, that has fast-paced matches, that could work for esports, that has the fast controls and depth of the Sensible Soccer games. We really wanted to fuse old game ideas with new concepts, offering players a number of ways to play: online, offline, couch co-op, touchscreen, controllers. You experience it as you want to."
Do you have a roadmap in place?
"It's a flexible roadmap. Right now, our main thing is online play."
"I would argue we are the best-playing football game on mobile as an arcade experience. It's all about getting that message across. Then the next phase for us is building on the player's ability to choose their club, expanding on the idea of planned play. The next major update will be our 'Sociable Soccer 2020' update. We're constantly progressing based on feedback we receive from Apple."
You've adopted free-to-play ideas (card packs, etc) and used them within a premium game, stripping away the in-game monetisation that some players have an issue with
"We're also selling the game soon in China, and they want free-to-play there. Whereas with Apple Arcade, one of the stipulations is that we couldn't do free-to-play. Luckily for us, we'd always planned to be either premium or free-to-play, so we could quickly revert back if need be. In the free-to-play version, you can win cards or buy them. In the Apple Arcade version, you can win them in a slightly different way, though you can't buy them. But we want to add the choice to acquire cards in different ways, as the ability to buy players from an in-game market is seen as a football game mechanic rather than a free-to-play mechanic. Some players have said they miss this, so it's something we're working on."
Was it quite a challenge reverting back to free-to-play?
"Not really. We started premium, then we went free-to-play, then we reverted back, etc. As a game developer, you've things like Unreal and Unity to build your engines in, so we can go totally cross-platform. So, actually, the challenge is more how you integrate the platforms with each other. For example, some of the console platform holders are really happy to allow cross-platform play between their system and PC or phone. Others are not so easy-going. So it's about trying to get everyone to understand the power of what we can do as developers."
Does the Chinese release have any association with Apple Arcade?
"No. That's a totally separate thing. In a way, you get some advantages from it. We can look at the free-to-play analytics and learn from them."
Do you think a subscription service like Apple Arcade is a viable long-term model for live games like yours?
"Honestly, I have been critical of all mobile channels having too many games and the amount of marketing you have to do to get through that. With only just over 100 games on Apple Arcade, it's back to being like an old indie games store. Apple has selected us to be pioneers alongside them. Even if our game wasn't on it, I love the service. It works in this Netflix/Spotify way, but with not too many games. For us, that's great. We are currently the only football game on there – we couldn't ask for more than that. And it works for live and non-live games."
What other platforms is the game headed to in future?
"We're in Unity! Switch, PS4, Xbox, Steam. It's just a question of how we roll it out. We had a Kickstarter back in 2015; and then at the end of 2017, we released an early-access version on Steam. When that stopped, we started hearing "you're abandoning us". No, no. We've been working on this game for four or five years; we need to pay everybody. If the mobile guys offer a bit of money for temporary exclusivity, that gives us what we need to release on other platforms. This time next year, I hope we're in a position where everyone is happy."
Launching for Switch must be exciting for you?
"For this title, Switch is going to be a great platform. I think it's a natural fit because it's fast and arcadey. What we're doing with the phone is allowing you to use it as a console. You hook it up to a controller, connect it to the TV, your phone is now a console. We're doing what the Switch does right now on mobile. It's something new, and it's exciting."Check out what we thought of Football Manager 2020 Touch in our full review