My passion for anything footy stems from my obsession with the games related to football I was bought as a child, whether it be a boardgame, a card game or a PC or console game. There were also all the miniature figures, card and sticker collections and anything else I could get my hands on to further my football addiction – I have almost always been, as the Microstarz advert went, ‘football crazy’.
The desire to work on a football-based project has been there from an early age. I wanted to make something that combined all the things I liked into one mega game. I spent hours in my bedroom happily creating my own Top Trumps-esque cards based on Football Manager-like skill stats that can be played as an 11v11 game on a table. The next week I was trying to turn Subbuteo into more of a strategic boardgame where each position was like a chess piece that could only advance with the ball or pass a certain number of squares.
Football captured my imagination like nothing else and there is still a place in my heart for a good football game that is mentally stimulating and exciting to play. The problem was, and maybe the reason why I tried so hard to create one myself, was that such games didn’t exist and, to my disappointment, still doesn’t.
There are the premium console games like FIFA and PES, where the initial thrill of playing the latest release wears thin after a few weeks, and then you’re back to the same mind-numbing semi-conscious button-bashing as the year before. I decided a few years ago that I was too old and too fiscally aware to own a PlayStation or an Xbox with only the interest of playing one football game on it.
The closest I’ve felt to being able to immerse myself in a football game for a number of hours is playing Football Manager, but I find it frustrating for a number of reasons. The main criticism I have is the legitimacy of certain tactics over others. On what basis is one style of play more effective than another? The game’s database is obviously super complex and filled up to the brim with forged real-life data, but that complexity of info can seem overdone. Added to that, the choice of actions are baffling, to the point where you’re unsure if two last hours you spent on the game will any influence on what happens on the virtual pitch. And I still don’t understand a lot of the commands and names of positions. When does a Deep-Lying Playmaker become a Trequartista? The old adage, ‘football is a simple game’ comes to mind.
I was convinced there wasn’t a football game out there for me, so I wanted to create it.
Developing the concept
The concept for my game itself came way before any thought to give it a platform or target an audience. Due to many years of playing fantasy football in my teens, it was inevitably going to be a footballer game. Football for me had become more about footballers rather than teams.
Back when me and my younger brother shared a bedroom we would do little footballer challenges before going to bed, where the aim was as much to complete a task by taking it in turns to think up suggestions as it was about winning. They began with naming the first player we could think of for each letter of the alphabet (far too tedious) and developed into a game we called ‘Teammates’. One of us started with a goalkeeper, and the other would name a right or left back that had been club teammates with the goalkeeper. The one who started then named a centre back that had played alongside the full back at a different club than the goalkeeper and full back. We would take it in turns to name each position in order until the line-up was complete.
I loved the foundational idea of linking up teammates within a line-up. Not just current teammates like on FIFA Ultimate Team, but players that had played together at the same club at any point in their career. It takes a lot of research to make sure that X player has been teammates with X player at X club during the same season, something I’m glad the football nerds of Wikipedia are very accurate with.
The main aim I had in mind when planning to turn my rough idea into a fully-fledged football gaming project was that I wanted to create a game that the 12-year-old version of me would’ve liked to play and also a game I would like to play now.
I initially planned on creating a boardgame out of my idea, but a boardgame is reliant upon a group of individuals being willing to take part, which in my experience of playing any boardgame pre-lockdown, is scarcely the case. A football quiz boardgame is much more niche, so only likely to become popular online. Once I’d drafted all the possible link lines for each formation, I started creating line-up quizzes where the aim is to select the right players to complete a line-up of teammates in a certain category, like World Cup winners or players of a particular nationality. I parked the idea when I started uni in 2015 and forgot about the notes I’d made.
It wasn’t until writing my dissertation in my final year of uni three years later that I decided to revisit my ‘Teammates’ game concept once my course had finished. My Marketing dissertation subject was ‘Content Marketing in Premier League Football’ and covered all bases of how a football fan like me interacts with the Premier League brand. It included a study of the Premier League’s official football gaming partners. I found in my research of apps that there were plenty of official football management games, fantasy football games and traditional computer-style games in app form on the App Store and Android market, but apart from Mirror Sport and Opta’s joint effort in 2015, no major quizzes.
There are plenty of football quiz apps, but they tend to be very easy, seemingly aimed at a mass young audience who are attracted to the current superstars. They are also very same-y- either multiple choice or ‘Guess the Footballer/Guess the Club’ from a very obvious image of said player or logo by typing the answer.
I concluded there was a clear gap in the app market for the Premier League to venture into an official football quiz game, with over 25-years of history to draw from. However, I was about to attempt to fill the football quiz gaming app void in an unofficial capacity with something completely unique.
Developing the game
In the gap between graduating and finding a job, I settled on beginning creation of a single-player mobile app that would be not only a challenging quiz but also a fun game.
I knew that the title had to feature ‘Teammates’, but struggled with an appropriate subtitle, as ‘the original football quiz game app’ doesn’t roll off the tongue. Pre-release I went with ‘an original unofficial quiz game for football nerds’ and left it at that until I realised it was far too wordy. At least the aim of the game was clear and simple enough- ‘match up the teammates to fill in the blanks in each line-up'.
From my research of trademarks and copyrights, it was clear that licensing was immediately the biggest challenge I would face. There would undoubtedly be more football boardgames, apps and PC games that would interest me if it wasn’t for copyright and image rights on players and clubs.
Manchester United suing Football Manager, who don’t use official club logos to avoid lawsuits, for using their official name, a registered trademark, shows how stringent the laws can be. I wasn’t entirely sure what the legalities meant, but decided it was best to avoid the possibility of being sued. As well as avoiding club names, I also needed to be careful that the images and names of players didn’t show a clear likeness to the player, as getting permission from footballers with image rights to use their image and full name may have been be difficult.
I decided that instead of wasting time overthinking it all, I should get a developer involved and work it all out with his guidance.
Developing the app
I found a local app developer via LinkedIn who I could meet up with to make sure they were the right person and so we could do some proper detailed planning rather than going back and forth via email. I sent him an email explaining my concept and we arranged to meet in a coffee shop in our nearest town centre.
I put together a PowerPoint presentation running through the more specific details for the first meeting. We went through it together and I asked him series of questions on what was possible and what wasn’t. In a couple of hours we established an understanding of terminology eg. the difference between a ‘gameplayer' and a ‘player’, and drafted a map of game screens. I wanted to have four league tables and two cups with eight rounds each like in real-life top-level English football- each line-up a new level in the game with its name and difficulty based on a real-life English team.
The exciting thing to come from the discussion was that my Teammates line-up concept could be developed into a mobile app, which was all I really wanted to know. I had such a drive to start development that the cost of it came secondary.
The dev asked me which app store I wanted the app to appear on at the meeting. I had taken it for granted that it would go on both the Apple App Store and the Google Play Store. Having learned the difficulties in developing an app that would be compatible for both and the subsequent costs attached, it was a choice between the two. I decided to go with the App Store only because the large majority aged 12-25+ will own an Apple product, whether it be an iPhone, iPad or iPod.
I went away eager to get started on the design. I knew what I didn’t want but wasn’t sure on exactly what I wanted. My taste in football art on Twitter led me down the minimalism route. I had originally considered commissioning graphic artists to produce minimalist portraits of players, but that alone would use up my budget and restrict the size of the game. I realised at this point I would need to do all the graphics myself if I were to afford the development I wanted.
Luckily, I had used a couple of free online programs at uni. I designed everything even more minimalist than I had envisioned due to my limitations in budget and graphic design capabilities. I believed a simplistic style would give my app an edge over its competitors, so I used geometric shapes and solid colours for the player images to create club logos in the colour of their shirts, background squares in the secondary colour of the club (each club requiring a unique design) and oval ‘heads’ in one of six different skin tones. Every one of the thousands of players in the game was assigned a skin tone and a club- simple.
What was initially an attempt to avoid copyright had become a quirky stylistic decision. The flat birds-eye-view stadium screens for the line-ups followed the same club colour scheme, with circular heads in the ‘stands’ above and underneath the pitch, which again had no textured overlay of grass, just striped two different shades of green. Functionality came before aesthetics, like a high-def version of Mario Kart on a Nintendo Gameboy. The less I spent on design, the more I could spend on developing the app.
Two years of drafting and redrafting line-ups of various difficulties and two different eras on paper, then designing player icons and filling out web files of valid player links had passed and finally the app was ready for release. Of course, app development never really finishes, but Teammates, A football quiz like no other, is something I am very proud of creating.
What we learned
We learned that creating a successful gaming app is very challenging and expensive. My budget for the project restricted us to App Store only, which immediately halved our audience when advertising and promoting on social media. I found that social media promotion wasn't working, so I began bidding for ad space using Apple Search Ads and that helped with user acquisition. The app has just under 200 downloads. However, even with Appodeal ads, I am yet to receive a penny in withdrawable revenue from the app.
What's next for Teammates
I'm looking to form 'teammates' with football fans with a good knowledge and experience of developing gaming apps. This has only as yet been a small personal project ran by me but after 2 years with no development it's time Teammates formed a team of its own to help it improve. I would like an Android app and to develop the game further into a more engaging concept cost-effectively.