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In what feels like a significant moment for the women's game, Sports Interactive and SEGA have announced that work has started on a multi-year project to bring women's football into its iconic Football Manager series.
The landmark project will allow virtual managers to take charge of both women's and men's teams in future versions of the world's most popular football management simulation, although the studio has yet to reveal a date for when the project will be completed.
Its intention, however, is to incorporate the women's game as soon as realistically possible, with Sports Interactive's development team committed to ensuring that women's football is represented as authentically as possible and with the level of realism and attention to detail that the series is renowned for.
A launch date will not be announced until these standards have been met.
Miles Jacobson, Studio Director at Sports Interactive, has stated that Sports Interactive have no interest in making a standalone women's football version of Football Manager.
"What we are doing is adding women's football to FM... one sport, one game," he said.
"We know that adding women's football to FM is going to cost in the millions and that the short-term return it delivers will be minimal. But that's not the point. There's no hiding that there's currently a glass ceiling for women's football and we want to do what we can to help smash through it.
"We believe in equality for all and we want to be part of the solution.
"We want to be a part of the process that puts women's football on an equal footing with the men's game. We know that we're not alone in this - the historic TV deal that Sky and the BBC recently agreed with WSL in England is proof of that - but we intend to do everything we can to get women's football to where it deserves to be."
So how long will it take to build such a vast database?
As well as in-game female character models and thousands of motion-captured animations that truly represent how the women's game is played, Sports Interactive will need to introduce the transfer system in women's football, which is different to the men's.
They will also need to accommodate the unique rules of many of the women's leagues, as well as financial and wage structures.
"There are other questions that we have to ask ourselves, such as how detailed should we go initially?" Jacobson adds.
"There is a lot of existing literature available about the impact of the menstrual cycle on training and injuries, but how do we incorporate this without it having a major effect on gameplay? And what about pregnancy? If we have pregnant players and staff in-game, do we need different 3D models for the different stages?
"And then there's the in-game text and translation to be considered. You can already play the game as a male or female manager, so most staff 'strings' (the term used for phrases in-game that refer to a character, whether playable or otherwise) are already in place for both male and female characters.
"However, as all of the current in-game footballers are male, all of the strings relating to them are gender-specific."
Tina Keech, who is Sports Interactive's Head of Women's Research, will also be heavily involved in bringing the women's game to Football Manager.
"The long term plan is to include every women's league in the world," she tells SPORTbible. "I want female footballers to be represented in this game. Hopefully we can - as they do in the men's game - represent even the lower leagues. That's the dream."
Jacobson, meanwhile, knows it will take some time to build a comprehensive global database of women's football, with the existing database having taken 28 years to build.
"To get our women's database right we will have to examine every single in-game attribute and define exactly how we judge the data; attributes such as pace, acceleration and agility will likely stay with the same range, but some attributes may need a different scale," he says.
"These attributes also feed into our match engine of course, and work done in this area (for example, looking at height of players and how that may affect how they play - such as aiming shots higher if a goalkeeper is smaller) will be of benefit for the match engine overall.
"And data, of course, is just one of many elements that are going to need careful consideration."
The move to incorporate women's football into Football Manager has received support from leading figures inside the football industry, including Chelsea FC Women manager, Emma Hayes.
"Women's football is capturing the imagination of fans across the globe and we're making huge strides in terms of attendance figures and broadcast deals," says Hayes.
"For the women's game to get to the next level, though, it needs to be recognised as an integral part of the world of football, not something separate and different. We want future generations to grow up in a world where football isn't divided into 'women's' and 'men's'... it's just football.
"The ambitious plan that the Sports Interactive team have for Football Manager will play a huge part in getting us there."
Featured Image Credit: Sports Interactive
Topics: Football Manager
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