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Football Manager makes a proud pro-gay statement

Football doesn’t have any high profile LGBT players, so imagine my surprise when I found out that there are gay players in Football Manager!

Football Manager is the hugely popular football management simulation game from Sports Interactive which lets you take charge of your favourite football team and manage all aspects of the club, both on and off the pitch. 

From Football Manager 2018 onwards, there is now a chance that one of your ‘newgen’ players might publicly come out. ‘Newgens’ are players that are fictionally created within the game after a certain time in order to keep the game fresh.

Not every player will see this feature, but if a star at their club does come out, they will find out from a news item in their manager inbox. The game handles this very positively and the player will see a spike in merchandise sales linked to the gay newgen!

To find out more about this, I spoke to Miles Jacobson, Studio Director at Sports Interactive:

Robin: What was the driving force behind the inclusion of gay characters in Football Manager? 

Miles: We’ve been working with the football anti-discrimination charity Kick It Out for many years, have seen various people in various sports coming out over the last few years including lower league football. It isn’t even a discussion point in women’s sport, and in men’s football we have seen a big increase in LGBT supporters’ groups over the last few years. 

In Football Manager, we’ve represented these groups with rainbow flags in the crowd, and just feel that it’s only a matter of time before we see openly gay footballers at the top level. As our game is one that is played into a fictional future, it just made sense.

Miles Jacobson
How long has this feature been in the game for?

Since Football Manager 2018, which came out in 2017.

Was this an easy decision? 

Very easy, yes. It wasn’t a big discussion point in the studio – just an idea that became a quick reality.

Why is it important to have LGBTQ representation in Football Manager?

Here’s the thing. I don’t think it is important. It’s just a normal part of life. Some people are straight. Some are gay. Some are trans. Some are bi. It should never have been a taboo subject. And we’re thankfully getting to the stage now where it’s becoming less and less taboo. People are people – doesn’t matter what their skin colour is, their gender or sexuality. We’re all humans. Which is why in the game, when someone comes out, it’s in a very natural way – you get a news item about it from your commercial director saying that the player has come out and that you’ve seen a small boost in merchandising revenue because of it. Then it’s not mentioned again, because it shouldn’t be anything but normal.

Alert that newgen has come out
How long do you have to play the game before a player comes out?

It doesn’t happen with real life players, as we wouldn’t want to out anyone who may or may not be gay unless they’ve done so themselves. Therefore, it only happens with players who are fictional and generated by the game, and those players will have needed to have an impact on the game world before they come out or else the merchandise boost wouldn’t happen. So, it could happen in season two, it could happen in season five – it just depends on the game you are playing, as all games in Football Manager are unique as the game is driven by AI and human decisions.

How does this work when played in countries that still have strict laws against homosexuality? 

This is where we had to be careful and had to do a lot of research. Simply, where it’s illegal in real life, it doesn’t happen in game – both for footballers playing in those countries and footballers living in those countries. We also had to be careful with countries where it’s not allowed to be discussed. We look forward to removing those restrictions in future games as laws change in real life.

A rainbow flag flies proudly in the stands
Did you get any advice on designing the feature and managing the coming out process?

We researched how it has happened in other sports and the effect it has had. And the aforementioned legal stuff. I spoke to Kick It Out about it before we announced and, of course, consulted with some people in the studio and friends who are gay. But we wanted to keep it as secret as possible and didn’t want any organisations to claim ownership of it for it to be turned into a campaigning point. We wanted it to be natural and for people to discover it in-game – we didn’t pre-announce or do a press release about it, as we didn’t want to be seen to be getting publicity for it.

What has been the reception amongst the fans?

The reaction was incredibly positive. Of course, there were a handful of people who complained – I got told I was going to hell a few times – but given I don’t believe in the after-life that’s not something that’s going to get me down. I got some brilliant documentation sent to me about religious text interpretations which I frankly found bonkers. But the vast, vast majority either said well done or said nothing. The latter was the reaction we really wanted – the idea of having it in game is to help normalise it in a sport where it’s still not the norm.

Why do you think no high-level professional footballer has come out yet?

Because they think the football world, and the supporter base, wouldn’t accept it. Which is a really sad position to be in at any time, let alone in 2019. The football world is abusive – one look at social media will show you that. Players abused for playing for a different team, abused because of their race, abused because of bad performance. Giving people another reason to abuse is the most likely reason. But you’d really need to talk to a gay footballer and ask them!

Do you think that a gay player in FM will help drive positivity in real life football?

I’d like to think that everything ‘controversial’ that we add to the game, whether it be Kick It Out ad hoardings, Brexit, increasing the amount of female coaches/managers/refs or the inclusion of gay players, helps to educate people. But it doesn’t work in a silo, just as part of a bigger picture.

What does the future hold for diversity in FM?

I’m not sure what else we can do – but we’re always open to new ideas, and our suggestions forums at community.sigames.com is the place for people to talk to us about them 

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