Like all sport today Football is based on data. Gathering it, crunching it and applying it.
Football Manager from Sports Interactive has built a global business on gathering, crunching and applying data. The incredibly successful computer game allows players to behave as real football managers. By profiling real footballer statistics based on actual games from around the world, players of Football Manager get hyper realistic playing experiences and pick teams to play games using real data.
The latest version of the game even uses the prospect of Brexit.
Says Grant Appleyard, a senior producer on the game: “The day after the vote we sat down and thrashed out the ideas which included the producers and the gameplay AI team.”
“We explored how transfers and contracts would be affected based on when Brexit will happen, whether it will be soft of hard. We’ve mapped how prevalent it will be in the game of football and in the game of Football Manager over a ten year period and the chance of it occurring at the end of each season. In the 2017 version in year three it occurs in the game at 40% chance. In year eight, nine or ten it goes to 80, 90, 100%.”
The team went into fine detail on the potential ramifications.
“We broke down the different aspects. For example what will happen in Scotland. What are the ramifications for the number of home grown players – a requirement in professional football – and impact BrexIT might have,” says Appleyard.
It looked at the exact ramifications of work permits being granted. Clubs often require work permits for players signed from say South America, or Korea. Whether or not UK work permits are granted is is based on minutes played for their respective national team.
“What will it look like one day in in Brexit? Or six months in? We predict there is a 98% chance that the current EU players will stay and be granted work permits. We integrated Brexit into a finance module and if clubs need to pay compensation. We looked at affiliates. Clubs currently have affiliates for youth programmes and the like. But if the UK is outside the European Economic Area, is there any point in setting up an affiliation? It meant we coded affiliation differently in the game,” says Appleyard.
“We build in the co-efficients from all the FIFA and UEFA data.
“We create accurate models of how those co-efficients might change. We have to make predictions and in the game and account for them. One real world situation example is what is happening with the Dutch national football team. Historically a very strong footballing nation with multiple world cup final and semi final and European championship appearances to their name, the country failed to qualify for this year’s European championship finals in France and are already looking doubtful to qualify for the Fifa World Cup in Russia in 2018. They currently lie third in their qualifying group – only one team qualifies automatically from each group. Football manager examines the performance of the players. Are players getting play time in the Dutch leagues, for example. Players not playing means their coefficient gets ranks lower. And that just shows how we use the data.”
Technology and Big Data
The language the game is built on is C++.
“We use C++ as primary code base. Looked at AI paradigms. We use neural networks which looks at what the user is doing and learns from that. That’s the AI paradigm that we use,” says Appleyard.
Football manager is basically a data company.
“We refer to the data as the crown jewels. We employ 1600 researchers worldwide who watch football and input data based on real events. These inputs are merged into a central database and the game takes that data and smooths it out.
“We have a partnerships with STATS – known as Prozone before it rebranded – we work with their system and share data but not software.”
The other big crown jewel is the match engine.
“It is the best simulation of a 90 minute match, it is virtually equivalent to a real game. We added Added 3d match engine and an advanced animation engine.
“We have a genius team of guys who program taking into account aspects such as player morale. Which is the greatest team of players? We mirror strong personalities and assess the type of relationship a player would have with the manager. The projected sentiment is bordering on emotional analysis and there is not an AI platform out there that does emotional analysis.
Does the firm have designs on Virtual Reality? Football Manager’s Appleyard declines to comment but the firm receives regular approaches from big data and virtual reality platform suppliers.
Football Manager 2017 pre-release Beta has been launched beat now and available to download. The full game is launched on November Nov 4th.