Head of Production

Grant Appleyard

When Head of Production Grant Appleyard first joined Sports Interactive in 2001, it’s safe to say things were... quite different. 

“It was just a bunch of lads, you know?” says Grant. “The key thing back then was we were all football mad. I think I was the first Newcastle fan in the studio, too. I got to claim the Geordie mantle.”

It was all fun and games until the actual work started, and process came a distant second to just getting the title out the door. “Oh god,” he says, laughing. “It was a lot less structured than today, let’s just say that. In a way I sort of miss those days — it was a simpler time, maybe were a bit naïve, but the mentality was just: We’ve got to make a game, so let’s make a game, put as much as we can into it and ship it.”

But for Grant, a born organiser with one of those accents that immediately puts you at ease, he knew he needed to make some changes. Structure was going to be what took the studio — and its games — to the next level. “I’ve always been a very organised person,” he adds. “It goes way back. At uni, I was a head barman. I was studying computing at Manchester Met while working at a number of pubs and clubs: I’ve always been a very good organiser, no matter what. In the years since, I’ve made good use of my skills, you know what I mean?”

Grant Appleyard

Now Head of Production, Grant’s time is spent managing various groups of producers working across all kinds of disciplines within the studio. But, in those early days, he was a programmer who only dabbled in project management — mostly since nobody else seemed to want to touch it. That was until one day, sitting down with studio director Miles Jacobson to discuss Eastside Hockey Manager, an SI game Grant was programming on, that the balance of his work changed forever. 

“Miles just said to me, Look, why don’t you do this production stuff for all of our games? I guess it just made sense. I agreed straightaway and we were googling stuff like, ‘What does a producer do?’”

What a producer does, in Grant’s words, is enable. There’s a degree of humility that’s entirely necessary for the role, he says. “We often call Football Manager a simulation, rather than a game, right? Well, it’s a simulation of real football right up until the moment you hit day two and then it’s your world. We work hard to make everything correct up until that point and then, ultimately, it’s yours to take it wherever you want to go.” 

That dynamic is crucial to understanding the studio’s finely tuned ecosystem and your place within the roadmap of the game’s production. Producers help set the framework to make the game work, but they’re not the ones actually building the title. So, they’re assisting the devs and coders, who are themselves setting the framework for players to then take the game off into infinity. It’s a straightforward plan honed over decades, made possible by the studio’s commitment to strategy and forward-thinking.

“Mentoring is something very important to us at SI,” says Grant. “We’ve got quite clear progression plans throughout the business so, if someone’s a coder or they're in QA and they’re showing signs they’d be interested in learning more about production, we always try and support that movement.” 

Grant Appleyard

Two decades later, Grant’s rise is a testament to that. Now it’s his turn to become a mentor to the next generation. “When Matt Carroll [Chief Operating Officer at SI] joined the business, he started talking about progression and, not just progression but succession planning. He’d ask us: Who will take your role when you move elsewhere in the business or onto a different job entirely?”

It just made intuitive sense to an organiser like Grant. “There is defined documentation and processes in place so that, if you meet someone with a spark that you want to nurture, you can do that,” he says, words spoken like a true producer. 

While his journey may have started alongside a bunch of lads who just love football, as the diversity has grown and grown in the studio’s personnel and interests, so too has Grant’s definition of what success really looks like. 

“It’s been wonderful to see people blossoming in different career paths,” he adds, a note of quiet satisfaction in his Geordie twang. “I’m pushing 50, and it just feels right that I’m getting to impart this skill and knowledge onto the next generation.”