The entire adaptation process took nearly two years, but the company continued to face several large hurdles outside the studio. First, they needed to find a publisher for a text-based hockey management game. Second, they needed to secure the licenses that the team had counted on. The game had been in development for well over a year with the assumption that the legalities would fall into place. Any of these issues threatened to scuttle the project, and then in late 2003, things - from the outside - seemed to deteriorate. Sports Interactive and longtime publisher Eidos parted company. In the split, Eidos took with them the famous flagship name Championship Manager (which they continue to develop to this day at subsidiary studios), while Sports Interactive retained rights to the underlying technology. Things looked bleak for the studio's flagship title, tidings that did not bode well for their smaller, secondary title. Enter SEGA. They reached a deal to publish the newly dubbed Football Manager as well as Eastside Hockey Manager in North America and Europe; previously Sports Interactive games had been held to the other side of the pond. With a publisher in place, the chances of securing major hockey league player and team licenses - especially the NHL - were restored and the painstaking process began in earnest.
"We're actually pretty lucky to have Nivine Emeran," said Marc Duffy, Product Manager at Sports Interactive, in reference to the representative at SEGA who handles licenses for their game. "She's been able to deflect much of the stresses and strains away from us on a day-to-day basis. We gave a list of our ideal licenses and she did a fantastic job securing most of them for us." Thus, just before its launch in the summer of 2004, the original game was renamed NHL Eastside Hockey Manager as part of an agreement with the NHL.
Oddly enough, it is the lawyers who handle these license agreements who manage to keep things interesting; the league and team licenses are a major reason of why I purchase each installment of this franchise. EA Sports is famous for putting out an updated version of their games each year, and some often question if the update is worth the ticket price. Typically, the new version simply gives players updated rosters of the one to four leagues it covers. EA's NHL series is first and foremost an NHL game, and their license allows for only that league (and occasionally a few European leagues). Players like hockey phenom Sidney Crosby cannot be placed into EA games until they have played their first NHL action. For the consumer, that means he cannot legally be included until NHL 2006. Contrast that to NHL EHM, where there are over fifteen playable leagues and - beyond that - almost every league of note currently in existence. Sidney Crosby has been in every incarnation of the game, thanks to the inclusion of Canadian junior leagues.
It is the growing scope of Sports Interactive's games that keep me coming back for each installment. Many fans were dismayed at the lack of minor-pro North American leagues in the first installment. The AHL, ECHL and others were replaced with fictional leagues to fill the void. Thus, with NHL Eastside Hockey Manager 2005, the introduction of the AHL and ECHL, as well as the highly competitive German league, gave me a major reason to go out and buy the game. Each year Sports Interactive and SEGA face the challenge of adding those licenses gamers demand and maintaining the agreements they already have. "I guess the greatest hurdle would be trying to convince the licensors that the product we have is good enough and will serve to enhance their league," mused Duffy. "It's a different type of game, and so it takes a little time to get across what we are all about."