Baseball Mogul and Football Mogul designer Clay Dreslough

Sports Mogul's Clay Dreslough

Interview with the designer of two top sports sims

by Dave McAwesome

I've played Clay Dreslough's games for years. After the demise of Front Page Sports, I wasn't getting the fix I needed due to the lack of multiple season play in computer sports games. Madden's dynasty or franchise mode was still a few years away. I stumbled onto a copy of Football Mogul from iMonkey (I can't say I care why the company was called iMonkey; suffice to say I'm glad Clay came to his senses and changed it to Sports Mogul). It was great. Multiple seasons. Full college draft. Salary negotiations. Salary cap. Trades for draft picks. Setting ticket and concession stand prices. I bought Baseball Mogul immediately after playing a dozen or so seasons of FM. Baseball Mogul was even better (BM has always been the older brother; FM is still playing catch up). I've played a lot of other sports sims since, but I always go back to Sports Mogul despite the fact that Clay is a Red Sox fan.

Now that football season's in full swing and the baseball playoffs are starting, I've begun new dynasties in each game. I also peppered Clay with interview questions. I tried to set a rule for myself that I wouldn't ask him questions about incorporating new features into his games. I broke that rule several times. I feel no remorse.

McA: What baseball or football sims did you play prior to creating the Sports Mogul games? The old APBA stuff? Strat-o-matic? What about computer games: Front Page Sports or SSI's Computer Quarterback on the Commodore 64?
Clay: I wrote a dice-based baseball game when I was 5. I have no idea where I got the idea, as I had never even played a game like it. I spent more of my life writing games than playing them; but when my friends wouldn't play what I'd made up, I played All-Star Baseball with my next-door neighbor. Then the Strat-o-Matic and SI board games. Then Earl Weaver on the Apple II. I was a programmer on the Tony La Russa games, so I played the FPS games as part of our "competitive analysis."
McA: I used to play the old Front Page Sports game so I gotta ask: Do you have plans for incorporating some of their features, such as training camp or custom playbooks (where players pick from a huge selection of plays and the subsequent stats generated are affected by the play book, i.e. a run and shoot type offense would generate different stats than a run control offense)?
Clay: For next year's Football Mogul, we have already begun work on not just a playbook editor, but an actual play editor, where you specify routes or responsibilities for each player.
McA: Okay, that last question broke my rule about asking for new features. No more, I promise. Okay, one more: How about hiring and firing coaches/managers and assistants? Yes? Please?
Clay: A popular idea, but it probably won't get added this year.
McA: Argh, I did it again. Okay, back to normal questions: What exactly does John Madden do on that bus of his?
Clay: Eat turducken.
McA: Why is John Madden scandal-free? I keep thinking that someday we'll find out he dresses in short gingham skirts and body glitter.
Clay: I keep thinking the same thing about Dick Cheney. I assume Halliburton has a crack squad of ex-Navy SEALs that go around "silencing" anyone who gets any dirt on Uncle Dick.

So I'm guessing that Electronic Arts has the same thing. Five percent of the $375 million they are paying to the NFL Players Association goes to support a small army of ex-linebackers on the hunt for anything that would hurt the Madden name. Somewhere in a sub-basement in San Mateo, you will find the gingham skirts and body glitter.

McA: What's wrong with people like us who get into all these stats and dynasties and wanting to control every aspect of a baseball or football franchise? I mean, seriously. We're not normal.
Clay: Yeah. You guys are seriously fucked up. I sometimes joke that our slogan is "We Monetize Addiction."

Resource management games are fun. Look at Monopoly or Civ. Building stuff is fun. Look at Lego. Or model railroads. Or the guys that spend 20 grand on woodworking equipment so they can make little signs that say "Home Sweet Home."

With Mogul, you are managing things AND building a fictional universe. If anything, the fantasy sports players are the weirdos. At the end of the day, they haven't created anything cool--just a bunch of points on a computer screen.

McA: Any thought to incorporating college football into Football Mogul or as a separate game? In other words, players have the option to control a collegiate team as well. They recruit players, try to keep the university's prestige up while improving their own reputation, allowing them to coach more prestigious universities? EA Sports' NCAA Football 2004 did a good job in their dynasty mode. (Later versions of the game added tedium to the process.) Top college players would fuel the pro draft. Users who've developed an affinity for one of their college recruits could try to draft him once he's eligible. Maybe they can hire college coaches for their pro team, etc. Since the simulation part would be unchanged, it might be interesting to see both college and pro incorporated into the same game.
Clay: I've thought about it, but things like the playbook editor and being able to play in historical seasons are a higher priority right now.
McA: Do you ever get sick of people suggesting changes or new features to your games? Be honest.
Clay: Actually, no. I like to be constantly pelted with requests. If I only get one or two each week, then I'm not sure if it truly represents our player base. The only thing that annoys me is the sense that I should thoughtfully reply to every suggestion. But I'm doing that less and less these days.
McA: What's the one change or feature request that you're sick of hearing? If it's one of mine, I'm gonna cry.
Clay: Time to alienate about half our fan base. I get a lot of requests to include every little roster management rule from the NFL and MLB, because it would add more realism. But these rules aren't made by game designers. They are made by lawyers during contract negotiations. We might as well build a game based on all 54,000 pages of the U.S. Tax Code.

We are continuing to make the games more realistic, with 40-man rosters, Rule 5 drafts and so on. But as I do so, I will make the more esoteric rules optional, and I think most players will continue to play without them.

McA: When are you going to work on a game for girls: Pony Mogul?
Clay: My wife would love that, and we've even talked about it. She's addicted to She could also do all the art for any game involving dragons, or princesses, or dragon-riding princesses.

I love all kinds of games. I've got card games and board games and role-playing games and drinking games tucked in little cubbies around my office. But the fact is that I'm not sick of sports games yet, and I don't think I will be for many years. I'm not even close to running out of ideas. And it's too cool having a huge fan base that appreciates your efforts; it would be rough to start at square one with a different game.

Up next in part 2: free agency, LARPing and the Lingerie Bowl.

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