Kevin Toms. The original author of Football Manager. Founder of the Football Manager genre of computer games. Million selling games designer.
The above picture was from the eighties, I look a bit more worn these days, as the driving picture may show, but photos like this are remembered by people, so I thought I would use it for fun!
(SHHH! Don’t tell anybody about my Facebook page)
How I started
I wrote Football Manager first. A game I wrote in my spare time. I had written games before, mostly board games, and a couple of games on programmable calculators. The first computer for Football Manager was a Video Genie, which was a clone of the popular American computer, the Tandy TRS80. The Video Genie was cheaper for me to buy, but from my memory still cost 330 English pounds.
Friends played the Football Manager game and got very addicted to it. This gave me the name of the company that I used to launch the game, Addictive Games. The ZX81 computer was also out at that time, and I made what proved to be a very smart decision to convert the game to run on a ZX81 too, before launching it. I needed the 16k add on RAM pack for the ZX81 to fit the game in, but most people bought that anyway.
January 1982 was when the first ad was placed for Football Manager. It was a quarter page ad in Computer and Video Games magazine. It was designed by me and started a style of advert design that I continued for a few years. I told people about the features of the product and the advert was in black and white at the time.
A common feature of the ad design was to include testimonials from players of the game. I realised that people wanted to trust what they were buying. Reading comments from purchasers would help build that trust. I also recognised that it helped that the comments were detailed. So I would include reasonably lengthy content from people’s letters. At games shows later some came up and told me they were the ones who wrote the letters. They liked their words being published.
ZX81 outselling TRS80 100 to 1
Within three months of launch I calculated that the ZX81 version of Football Manager was outselling the TRS80 version by 100 to 1. In fact, if I had only launched the game on the TRS80 the sales would have been too low to pay for the advertising costs alone, and I would not have had a viable business!
Businessman or Games Designer?
There was no choice, when I launched Football Manager. There were no games companies to speak of. There were not even any retail outlets. The only way to sell the games was by mail order. So, this inevitably meant I was selling the game directly myself. I always had an interest in marketing, even though my profession was Computer Programmer, working on mainframes. So it came (fairly) naturally to find myself marketing my own game. And the ideas I had, the approach worked. It did mean I had to learn a lot about being in business. In fact it was not long before there was a constant conflict between my desire to write more games and the pressures of the growing success of the business.
ZX Spectrum Football Manager
This was a critical product in the growth of Football Manager. It was late summer 1982 that I got my Spectrum. The ZX81 and Video Genie/TRS80 were black and white display computers. The Spectrum had colour, and it was only about 100 pounds to buy, which was an accessible price to many people. The ZX81 was cheap too, which built the number of customers for my game, but the Spectrum added much more. 48k of RAM memory was a big help for my game which was a strategy game that needed memory. And then there was the scope to add graphics…
Adapting Football Manager to the Spectrum
I decided to add graphics, an animation of the match action. I spiced up the look with colours that seem odd now, but the team names were displayed in colours that matched their team strips. The graphics were a perspective view from the side of the match. The lines were drawn and stick men graphics were used. (Nothing like what is available now). The thing was, from a gameplay point of view, it worked as intended. It added more tension and excitement to the matches themselves. For it’s day, and for such a strategy game, it was unique. There was an infinite variety to what could happen, nothing was preplanned. The players were making decisions on what to do as the match played. With the speed limitations of the computer, it was very constrained compared to today. I used some tricky boolean logic to make it work too, that I have trouble understanding when I reread it!
Going High Street
During those early times, there were not even many retail outlets for computer games! Those that were there would be considered hobbyist stores. But, around this time the big high street chain stores, starting with W H Smith and Boots in the UK, started to realise the market for computer games for home computers. I got a phone call and got called to meet the buyer at W H Smith head office in London to talk about stocking Football Manager.
More to come later on this history….
I am also the author of Football Manager 2 plus the Expansion Kit, and Football Manager World Cup Edition.
In addition I wrote Software Star, President and recent online games The New Zealand Football Championship management game, and I am now working on a rewrite of Football Manager for iOS and Android
— which will soon be finished at last!!!