Jon Hare, the creator of Sensible Soccer, has returned with a new soccer game called Sociable Soccer.
It is uncommon for a sports video game to remain popular for several years after its initial release nowadays. However, I had the opportunity to meet Jon Hare, the friendly and talkative co-founder of Sensible Software, a successful British video game company (and a devoted fan of Norwich City), at a Bafta event in London. He invited me to an upcoming gathering of fans to play and honor his game, Sensible Soccer, which first debuted for the Commodore Amiga in 1992.
At the time, Sensible Soccer had a significant impact and played a crucial role in popularizing football games before the advent of Fifa. It has also shown remarkable staying power. However, Hare, who is now the head of Tower Studios, is more interested in discussing his latest game, Sociable Soccer 24, which is set to be released this week on PC and later on consoles.
The concept of Sociable Soccer being a contemporary spiritual follow-up to Sensible Soccer is embraced by Hare. He states, “For PC and console, we are the only option if you desire arcade-style gameplay and complete player licenses.” He compares the series formerly known as Fifa, now called EA Sports FC, to Call of Duty, while Sociable Soccer is likened to Fortnite. Both have similar content, but Sociable Soccer is simpler to learn and play.
Sociable Soccer 24 captures the spirit of Sensible Soccer. It maintains the fast-paced gameplay that Hare describes as “similar to a fighting game, with constant button pressing and an adrenaline rush from the momentum.” The partnership with Fifpro (the global association for professional footballers) provides real player names and images, eliminating the need for intentional misspellings. However, I personally found these misspellings to be a charming aspect of Sensible Soccer back in the day – my favorite was Tony Edams, the former central defender for Arsenal and England.
However, do not assume that Sociable Soccer is solely focused on evoking feelings of nostalgia. It boasts a modern aesthetic and incorporates modern features, such as a career mode with a 10-league structure inspired by League of Legends, and player cards similar to Fifa Ultimate Team. The difference here is that players do not have to pay extra for these cards. Jon has been vocal about his disapproval of EA’s approach to football games, describing them as “overpriced, overhyped simulations filled with loot boxes and various money traps.” Ironically, EA now owns the rights to the Sensible Soccer name, as they acquired Codemasters in 2021, who had previously purchased Sensible Software in 1999.
Traditional features like aftertouch allow for an impressive level of manipulation on passes and shots, earning the nickname “Sensi”. According to Hare, the new engine maintains the same speed, pace, and structure as the original Sensible Soccer. Hare’s preferred game mode is still competitive couch multiplayer, which he believes to be the highlight of the game. He describes it as playing in the style of old Sensible Soccer against a friend or family member, while enjoying pizza and drinks. Despite the short duration of three or four minutes per game, players often find themselves wanting to continue due to its addictive nature.
Hare is easily prompted to recall the days of Sensible Soccer, when Sensible Software was a top developer in the industry. Their previous success with MicroProse Soccer for Commodore 64, which was essentially a modified version of Tehkan World Cup arcade game, had established their reputation. Hare reveals, “We had originally wanted to name the game Sensible Soccer in 1988. However, MicroProse offered us £30,000 but with the condition of naming it MicroProse Soccer. Despite our preference for the original name, we agreed due to the appealing amount.”
However, Sensible Soccer’s origins can be traced back to when Sensible Software was working on Mega-Lo-Mania, one of the earliest “god games”. According to Hare, it was the first game to include a tech tree and one of the first to feature mining. During dull moments while waiting for new versions to be compiled, Hare and his team passed the time by playing Kick Off and its sequel, both of which had surpassed MicroProse Soccer as the leading football game.
“We enjoyed Kick Off, but we saw opportunities to improve it. This led us to create a new football game, where I began drawing small players wearing Norwich uniforms,” he remembers. “Using the same perspective as our Mega-Lo-Mania game, we designed a football field for the Norwich players to run on. The perspective was impressive – we could see more of the pitch compared to Kick Off where it was difficult to see who you were passing to. We realized we had stumbled upon a great perspective by chance. We then focused on developing a football engine and within two months, the game played flawlessly – it was like magic. I still don’t know how we accomplished it, but we did. In my 35-year career, I have never replicated that experience.”
The creators of Sensible Soccer were aware of its potential success, and they were correct. The game became a bestseller and not only revolutionized football games, but also set a standard for sports games in general. According to Jon, one of the developers, Sensible Soccer was the first game to feature players of different races on a sports team. In previous games, lazy development teams would use one sprite, resulting in all players being depicted as white. Jon recalls playing a game where Liverpool’s John Barnes was portrayed as white, but in Sensible Soccer, he was accurately represented with a small character with a few brown pixels for a face, the number seven above his head, and a red kit. This breakthrough meant that Sensible Soccer was the first game to showcase diversity in sports, which was essential for any sports fan.
Surprisingly, Hare does not consider Sensible Soccer to be his top game. Instead, he believes that the title belongs to Sensible World of Soccer, also known as SWOS, which was released two years after Sensible Soccer in 1994. According to Hare, “When we developed SWOS, we included full leagues from countries like Argentina which had never been featured before, as well as Yugoslavia and South Africa. The fact that these teams were included in the game was something that people were excited about.”
Unfortunately, this approach that was intended to be international-friendly had an unforeseen result: it led to increased sales, but also a rise in piracy. According to Hare, the Sensible Soccer series sold approximately two million copies, but for every legitimate sale, there were 20-30 pirated copies. This means that, conservatively, the game has been played by 40 million people. Hare has spent a significant amount of time working in Poland and has many friends there, but he has yet to meet anyone who hasn’t played Sensible Soccer or anyone who has paid for it.
Is Hare unhappy about not making as much money? If everyone who played Sensi in the past had paid for it, he would have a lot more money. However, he believes that having a successful game is more important than the money. SWOS was recognized by Stanford University as one of the top 10 most influential games of all time in 2007 and is the only European game on that list, alongside popular games like Spacewar! and Mario. This is the greatest achievement of Hare’s life and he doesn’t think he will ever top it.
Doing something like that at the age of 27, 30 years ago, is a significant accomplishment. It solidifies your legacy at a young age and eliminates the possibility of feeling like an imposter, which is often experienced by creative individuals.
The release date for Sociable Soccer 24 on PC is set for November 16th.