Jon Hare: Chapter IV

Okay, let’s get back to the games. One of my last questions involves your current project: none other than Sociable Soccer. As you mentioned, it’s the latest iteration of an idea that started back in 1988 with Microprose Soccer, then got perfected from ‘92 to ‘96 in the form of Sensible Soccer and SWOS. What do you think makes Sociable Soccer relevant today, and what is the current state of the game?

Okay, well let me explain to you what Sociable Soccer is. The Steam version has been out for over a year now in the early-access version. It’s really just a taste of what the game is going to be. It’s been developed a lot since the last update about a year ago. We’ve been working on so many fundamental things and it’s been only in pieces, and not worth presenting until it’s a whole. But what we are doing is making a proper cross-platform game for the modern era. And what people have to understand is that’s what we did when we made Sensible Soccer. We made a game for the Amiga at the time with everything that was needed and more.

We won an award for the most anticipated game in China for 2019

So our focus at the moment is on the fast gameplay, obviously. There’s lots of teams, online play, collectable cards, and it’s very much in-line with the needs of a modern football game, but with some old gameplay parts there as well. If you look at what we’ve got in the football world at the moment, we’ve pretty much got FIFA and PES on the action side, you’ve got Football Manager and Top Eleven [Football Manager],and on mobile you’ve also got New Star Soccer – that’s not really a football action game, it’s more bits – and you’ve got Dream League Soccer.

We see a gap in the market for a football game with slightly more light-hearted, fast-paced, three-minute matches. An online Sensible Soccer-style game with both joypad and touchscreen controls, in various camera angles, and of course it’s in 3D. We see the gap in the market combined with card collection, combined with playing for the club you support in a clan-style system. We’re taking the old mentality and mixing it with the new mentality. We’ve signed with China Mobile – and I know people probably find it a bit odd, but we did that. The game is totally cross-platform, so it’s for PC, mobile and consoles and it can even work for VR – literally totally cross-platform.

Jon Hare and Sociable Soccer Team
Left: David White, Jouni Mannonen & Jon Hare (left to right) Sociable Soccer team mates (2017) Right: David White, Jouni Mannonen & Jon Hare (left to right) Sociable Soccer team mates (2017)

I see, so what’s the deal with the Chinese?

We have been talking to a whole bunch of publishers about this game for a long time, and we’ve got a fair amount of interest. Some of them are still waiting to get the money together themselves. China Mobile are a huge company. We’ve signed with them and a company called Crazy Sports. We won an award for the most anticipated game in China for 2019. We featured in the women’s E-sports championships out in China in December 2018, which had over a million viewers, and people have now woken up to the game. The potential we’ve got out there is huge.

One of China Mobile’s other products is streaming the live footage of real football to the Internet, so that people can watch it on their phone, etcetera. They have over 100 million paying users, so we are looking to interface with this giant in China. Right now, our mission is to find publishing partners in Europe and North America on mobile and to find the same on PC and console. I have self-published with Speedball 2 Evolution – but I know I am not really a publisher – I’ve worked with some of the best publishers in the world in my life.

Yes, Speedball was a number one game in some places, but if Sociable Soccer gets as big as Sensible Soccer did, we won’t be able to cope with it as a publisher. I don’t want my attention to be switched to playing at being a publisher. I work with a great development team, Combo Breaker, based in Helsinki. We’ve been three years working together on this now and we are on the edge of signing the other publishing deals that can follow up from the one in China. So I understand that it’s been hard for people in Europe to understand what the hell we’re doing because we’ve switched to China first. The reason we switched to China first is simple: they offered us money first.

So we’re not sitting down and we’ve not given up, we’re not taking anyone for a ride

At the end of the day, you have to go where the money is to keep your company going. But we have some other offers on the table as well right now plus I’ve turned a lot of offers down on this game over the last 3 years. The market out there is strange at the moment, but I think we’ll find the deals we want, within the first half of this year, people are starting to pay attention to Sociable Soccer, because it is happening right now at last.

Release-wise that sounds like a bunch of positive news, but what does it mean for the current owners of the early Steam version of the game? What do you say to them?

To anyone who bought the Steam version, apologies for the delay. But don’t worry we’ve not been using your money to spend it on other formats of the game, the PC version is very important to us too. We haven’t sold that many copies of the Steam version at the moment because it’s not finished. A lot of people are quite rightly waiting for the online version to start functioning. But yeah, the game is coming on leaps and bounds for PC, console and mobile and once we find a home for all of them, and we know what the publishing implications are from the new publisher(s), then we’ll move forward with where we’re going next and let all of the current Steam owners now. So we’re not sitting down and we’ve not given up, we’re not taking anyone for a ride. We’ve committed – myself and the Combo Breaker team – over three years of our lives to making this thing, and made very little money so far. We are definitely backing this with everything we’ve got and I think you’ll see it’s been worth it quite soon.

The response we are starting to get from China – from the last few weeks, which is the first time it had a public airing – it’s fantastic. So yeah, I mean it’s weird for me as someone who’s never really sold games outside of Europe. All the Sensible hits, they never did anything in America or in Asia. Mega-Lo-Mania is the only game that came out in Japan in some weird version, but it’s really weird to get a first lucky deal in China. But it happened that way for us. Let’s see what happens.

It’s an important time for us because we’ve got a game show coming up in a few weeks in London. So, I just set up some meetings for the bunch of publishers there. We’ve got GDC coming up in March and by then, in early April, we should know what’s going on. But with the fair wind, we are developing all formats: PCs pretty much, with mobile coming along at the same pace. Obviously mobile would deliver first, because we’ve got a contract to honour on there, but PC will not be too far behind. Yeah this year should be a really big year for us.

Obligatory final question: Do you find time to play other games? If so, what have you been playing lately?

I actually – which is a good sign – have been playing Candy Crush again. It’s been my mainstay this year. I have been playing our game the most on my mobile recently. I mainly play games on mobile because I don’t normally have time to set up computers to specifically play games, but I always have the mobile in my pocket. I’ve played a game called Football Chairman to death, which I loved. I’ve played New Star Soccer a lot. I’ve played War and Order and stopped playing that after a while, but that was good. These are the games I played last year.

When I do BAFTA awards, that’s when I tend to get the chance to play the top games and judge them. It’s good for keeping pace with PC and console games, which I don’t generally spend that much time playing. For most of the year I spend most of my time playing my own game because I’m making it. So I am grateful to BAFTA for keeping me on top of some of the great console and PC games like The Last of Us, Skyrim, or other great things which have come out over the last X number years.