A Non-Update Update

In the interest of providing accurate headlines and in my personal dislike of click-bait, I’m providing an update that tells you perhaps everything you want to hear except what you really want to hear.

A couple of years ago, I joined a partnership with OOTP. This was for the specific purpose of publishing a football game. OOTP is the publisher, and is providing a publishing platform, a GUI platform and GUI programming, custom graphics, marketing and dozens of other valuable insights and functions that are well beyond the scope of a solo developer. On my end, I’m providing the FOF8 base, adapting it to this new GUI, and adding a host of new FOF9 functions.

We’re calling the new project Front Office Football 9. We’re all fairly certain it will have that name upon release. The goal was to have this finished last fall. You might have noticed, however, that there is no new product on the market. That’s why I spent a couple of months last fall adding some features to FOF8 that I was saving for FOF9 – primarily with game planning. I also provided a 2018 player file. All this is work valuable to the FOF9 effort, but our delay meant that it was appropriate to spend extra time putting it into FOF8 as well.

The biggest question you have right now is, I’m sure, whether OOTP still plans to put out FOF9. That answer is a definite yes. We’re still making progress and we’re still expending resources.

The second-biggest question you have right now is, “well, then when the #^$%& are you releasing it?” I just don’t have that answer. None of us do. We would all like to get it out this fall, but we’re not in a position right now to make that determination.

A common theme on the OOTP board these days is discussing and speculating about my own feelings about publicity and marketing. I am the lead developer, after all, and I haven’t said much about the game. Why is that?

Going back to 2001 and the release of The College Years (still, to date, by far my most successful game), I’ve tried very hard to avoid talking a lot about my work. Before 2001, I loved the attention. I knew most of the major reviewers out there and it was fun to talk about my work. I was a reviewer for Computer Gaming World before I started Solecismic Software. That gave me a huge advantage in starting out because I knew who to talk to and we all had a lot in common. That works great when you keep to a specific schedule. I was lucky in that I had a good sense how long everything would take and the market was different back then.

However, soon after I started work on TCY and soon after I hyped it a bit with reviewers, EA Sports wanted more from me with FOF. Wonderful. That was my ticket to “making it big” in this business. I was all-in. And for those of you who know me personally, the most profound disappointment in my career was when a group of lawyers for the NFL and a group of lawyers for AOL could not settle a very simple question for EA that would have allowed us to put FOF3 on the Madden CD, for free, giving people an interface for joining a managed FOF multi-player world. Tiberon (the Madden development group) was terrific. Holding that space for us until they just about had to stamp the gold images. But the lawyers were not making progress and after we missed that window, EA lost interest in FOF. No more “making it big.”

Meanwhile, I was a year behind with TCY and customers were frustrated. The game was a lot bigger than FOF2, and it had a few bugs to work out on release. All was fine within a month, but I was very well aware that the hype had caused significant harm and the initial reviews of TCY suffered from it specifically. For future FOF releases, I adopted a “no-hype” policy. Then, one year, for reasons having nothing to do with the game or the community, I decided to hold back a release announcement until the day before the actual release.

Frankly, I thought I was being quite obnoxious with that. But people seemed to find it refreshing back then, so I decided to let it become part of my community ethos, so to speak. Just shut up and let the work speak for itself. I think that approach works well for solo development. Sure, there’s less excitement during the release, but word of mouth spreads and you end up with more sales in the long run than you would have with the alternate approach.

Am I taking this approach with FOF9, then? No. Not at all. I’m silent about development because I’m part of a bigger whole today. OOTP has professional marketing in place and several teams to help with the release process. It’s not my place to speak for them and set this process in motion. And they will set this process in motion once we have a strong idea about when we will release FOF9.

Naturally, that brings up a lot of questions. Where are we in development? Why are we delayed? Why can’t we at least show screen shots? What new features will be in place when the game is released? I can only answer some of these questions, and the rest, as I am part of a team now, will be handled by OOTP in the proper time frame.

Where are we in development? OOTP has provided a nice new framework for the game. I have learned this framework, and ported the AI and FOF8 engine to a new set of structures that will support it long into the future. In doing so, I focused on elements that will make expansion easier – FOF9 may not support that many different-sized leagues, but it will support a few – and new formats will be easier to add. That was a huge issue for me with my solo framework because of decisions I made maybe ten years ago to save disk space. I took the time to evaluate the new design and remove those limitations when designing the port itself. I’ve also added a few new bells and whistles here and there (providing details about that is part of the pre-release process). We have yet to implement some of the key “show-off” screens, like the in-game module and the piece I’ve designed to replace Solevision. We aren’t showing screen shots because that’s more for the build-up process and because the graphics touches come late in development.

Why are we delayed? Andreas recently posted on the OOTP forum that OOTP has a lot on its plate right now. Those OOTP improvements took precedence over the FOF development. And I have to shoulder some blame, too. There’s more I could be doing related to the GUI and just getting elements on to pages. But I’ve had some personal issues to take care of recently, and my wife and I are completing a move to Canton, Ohio (of all places – we’re just six minutes from the HOF now). An older home that needs some TLC, and we just moved to Ohio.

The positive side is that the delay means I’ve been able to get more, what should we call it… FOF10 function… into FOF9 than we had originally planned. More league formats, more new ideas on how to implement functions, little AI things. FOF9 was originally going to be FOF8 with a new coat of paint. We’re already beyond that.

For me, and for the good people at OOTP, this is a calling rather than just a job. We’re in it for the right reasons. If anything changes with development or we commit to a release schedule, we’ll tell everyone right away. Until then, it’s probably best to keep relatively quiet. When it’s time to set this in motion, there will be plenty of time for a proper marketing plan and we’ll be available to answer as many questions as we can.

Thanks for your patience.