Codemasters disasters #1 Club Football


One upon a time Codemasters had a great football management game called LMA manager. It was the best selling game of it’s type on console and annually a new version improved on what had gone before, sold well and made a profit. Guaranteed money in the bank every year. The head of the studio Simon Prytherch ran a tight team and had a clear vision of where the game was going long term. All was well with the world.

A part of LMA manager that made it more suited to consoles than the spreadsheet type management games on PC was the actual playing of games. You made all your decisions then watched the results play out. Every year this got better with features like touchline shouts etc introduced. Then someone senior had a very silly idea. They thought that they could use this as a cheap and cheerful engine for a football action game. That we could take on Pro Evolution Soccer (PES) and FIFA, both excellent and well established games, with this management game football engine.

Then it got worse, a lot worse. To give us a unique selling proposition (USP) over our competitors it was decided to make multiple versions of the game, each club specific. So at a cost of many millions we signed up Manchester United, Liverpool, Juventus, Bayern Munich, AC Milan, Arsenal, Ajax, Real Madrid, FC Barcelona, Chelsea, Inter Milan, Leeds, Glasgow Rangers, Celtic, Borussia Dortmund, Aston Villa and Hamburg. Each version had the identical mechanics with a pile of club specific window dressing to appeal to the fans, supposedly.

So we had a marketing problem. In fact a marketing impossibility. Each game was intended for a different fanbase so we needed to market each individually into that fanbase. It would have needed 17 marketing teams and 17 marketing budgets. And all the money had been spent on the licenses. And the game was rubbish, really rubbish because of it’s management game roots. And we had vastly better, stronger, well established competitors in PES and FIFA. It was doomed and many of us could see that it was doomed from the very beginning.

So it bombed at retail, nobody wanted to buy it. And there was the collateral damage, Codemasters had a brand identity built on many years of great product quality, this game did massive damage to that Codemasters brand, something it may never recover from. And many millions of pounds were poured down the grid. And, unfortunately, Simon Prytherch left the company, so we lost a great talent.


  1. I think you hit the nail on the head when you said “we had a marketing problem” although ironically I don’t believe you intended it in the correct context. This game is a prime example of why marketing should never drive game design and development.

    Bullet points on a box do not a great game make. 🙂

  2. It wasn’t marketing driven, it was imposed on marketing. Marketing would not have come up with such an unworkable idea. And so much work for themselves.

  3. My apologies, I think you’ve misunderstood my comment.

    I was not referring to the marketing department but marketing in the more general sense.

    When the USP of a game involves creating 17 uniquely branded versions of the same game aimed at 17 different audiences then yes, I would indeed say that the development of that game was ‘marketing driven’. 🙂

    I can’t even begin to imagine how many SKUs in total the development team had to create, considering the different console versions, languages and territories… Ouch!!

    Anyway, surely the most important thing is that we as an industry can learn from stories like this and avoid making similar mistakes in future.

  4. Debbie, silly me. I understand you perfectly now.
    The SKU situation was bad but we didn’t make the Ajax version for Spain or the Borussia version for the UK and so on, which eased things a little.
    The whole concept of having 17 skins on the same game was an “executive” decision, handed down on clay tablets. Never to be questioned in any way. Marketing and development were equally apalled at the stupidity of the whole idea. The licensing department however had fun working with those football clubs and spending millions.

    The chance of anyone making the same mistake again in the future must be slim. Idiocy of this level is quite rare.

  5. Just to clarify Bruce, Club Football was indeed crap (sadly — a lot of people on the team had high hopes for it), but it *wasn’t* crap cos of it’s management roots. At no point was the engine based on that of LMA – it was a brand new engine, created from scratch.

    (As an aside, the CF engine was then ported to later versions of LMA, with some success for the franchise).

    Also, the loss of Mark Waldon was a turning point for the development too; he was very popular with the team.

  6. Hi Andy, I was told they were going to transfer their match engine expertise over from LMA to Club Football. From what you say it looks like it didn’t work. Thanks for making this more accurate.

  7. I agree that the whole premise of Club Football was awful. Take a game (good or bad) and reduce its target audience down to people who supported those clubs, meanwhile alienating causal gamers who like football games but aren’t too fussed about club allegiance.

    I doubt the hardcore fans of the clubs involved would make up for this either.

    This decision came from the top and even if the game was better than FIFA it was doomed to failure.

    Anywhere, where did I put that bone?

  8. And not to mention the retailers. This was horrendous. We were asked to pre-order. Even LMA would have been an extremely small buy but all these different versions. I refused all except those that I had specific pre-orders for. Terrible terrible decision.

  9. I worked as the Senior Group Programmer on this project although I was promoted to this position during the development, so I feel obligated to write a short postmortem.

    Things that went right:

    1. Although I’m not sure about the sequel, we were told that CF “covered costs” and hence didn’t make a loss. The fact that only 4% of games make a profit (, I’d actually count CF as a success albeit a small one. Many games don’t even get published.

    2. The LMA engine was ported for use in CF. It was used for all the menus (as LMA is very UI intensive). This worked well. Also the graphics were provided by an upgraded Core Engine (the standard codemasters graphics engine at the time), which gave pretty good results. The gameplay engine was written from scratch.

    3. Our approach to build tools and tool-side architecture was generally good.

    Things that went badly

    1. Our lead programmer, studio head, producer and many other programmers, designers and artists left during development. Morale became bad and we lost too much talent and experience. This lead to problem #2.

    2. Too little experience amongst the developers. Generally you need a minimum of 50% ratio of experienced to inexperienced programmer. I’d class an experienced programmer as one who had worked on two games before (preferably different genres). After losing our lead programmer, we never managed to hire a replacement. This lead to problem #3.

    3. The game never played very well. Some argued there was a lack of flexibility in the engine and the system was too dependent on animations. This was despite many months of hard work from the gameplay team. In retrospect, we might have had more success writing the gameplay engine in a higher level language then optimising the slow parts.

    Bruce mentioned the SKU situation. I’d say it was a necessary evil. Note that EA had the licensing for FIFA, so the SKU approach was our only way into the genre. Although this was difficult to manage, both the dev side and the marketing seemed to handle this reasonably well. Arguably it would have been better to cover fewer clubs or combine them.

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