Top Eleven Football Manager, Nordeus' football (or soccer in the U.S.) team management simulator, places emphasis on its social features as a way to preserve the inherently competitive nature of the sport itself, designer Aleksandar Markovic told Polygon.
Markovic, who describes the game as an "MMO management sim," said that playing against other players and vying for the top score is what makes Top Eleven so appealing. According to the designer, the game's "unavoidable social link" keeps players engaged.
"It's a game that asks for competition," he said. "It's very much a sports game. Gamers want that competition in their sports games. I mean, that's not all that sports is about, but you know."
Markovic said that even for players who aren't keen on playing competitively, that aspect of Top Eleven is "unavoidable." The game seeks to emulate and preserve the spirit of the sport it portrays.
"It's organic," he said. "The only opposition you meet is other players' teams."
According to Markovic, most players will remain consistently active for an average of four months. Studio Nordeus makes sure to provide updates and tweaks to the in-game training system to keep player interest over time. One of the most important parts in getting potential players' hooked is the game's opening, which should be interesting but not overwhelming.
"I think there needs to be a balance in the head of the developer between understanding what it is you can teach someone before they get bored, and on the other hand the understanding of what [things] are self-explanatory, " he said. "But if you aren't the type of player who plays football managers, there is nothing I can do to teach you to like it."
Markovic added that the development team at Nordeus is more concerned with keeping players currently into the genre interested than coming up with ways to attract new ones.
"You should not, as a developer, spend such a huge amount of time thinking about how to introduce your game to new players," he said. "You should spend more time thinking about how to make your game better to players who like them."
Markovic knows that Nordeus is developing for a very niche market, but it's a passionate one.
"There are plenty of [football management sims] out there, it's not a huge market," Markovic said. "But what makes us stand out is we're like an MMO. We really focus on that social, competitive aspect of leading a football team. In real life when you play on football teams, they also have managers and things like that, and this is what we like to build up on [with Top Eleven.]
"'Niche' is a very strange word in English; it does not mean it is a removed audience, but a small audience," he added. "There is a significant number of football management sim players, and many of them that actively play other games and many of them just play football management.
"I think that's the interesting part; [our genre] is similar to the casual games scene in that we have some gamers that don't [consider themselves gamers]. But both types want good gameplay and a good challenge. And we give that."