james debate
james debate

Friday 20 February 2009

Developed by Sports Interactive
Genre Sports simulation
Platform PC/Mac
Release date(s) 4th November 2008 (download), 23rd January 2009 (retail)

Football Manager Live

Football Manager, the seminal series from developer Sports Interactive, has long been one of the most successful and universally acclaimed video games series around for many years, ever since it went by its old name 'Championship Manager'. If you live in England, and you like football, chances are you play this game, and I'm sure the same is true all over the world these days.

As such it was only a logical next step in this increasingly wireless, online world of ours to create Football Manager Live, a massively multiplayer online version of the game.

The basic premise then, is to divide the game into different 'gameworlds' consisting of around 1000 players each. Each of these players then creates his or her own club from scratch. And I mean you can really design it from the ground up in full detail, you name the club, design the kit, design the stadium right down to the grass patterns on the pitch, and then you pick your team, with each team being able to pick players from the massive and world famous SI database of hundreds of thousands of players (and each player can only be picked once in each game world). You can then join a football association chosen depending on when and how often you plan on playing the game, and you can develop your management ability by training your own skills in classic RPG fashion. Of course there were serious reservations about this concept from long time fans, it all sounded very ambitious, and many had doubts that it would work well.

Well I won't sugarcoat it, it is a game that takes some time and effort... but then most people who play normal Football Manager probably waste plenty on that game as it is, so they can just redirect that football lust towards this game instead. And it would indeed be worthy usage of said time as well, because the game is very well done.

The first tip I should give is to join the game in a newly created gameworld, don't jump into one that's already several seasons in, it'll be far too much catching up to do with other clubs monopolizing all the money and good players. Join a new gameworld and get off to a good start to establish yourself as one of the big clubs, and make sure you remember the good cheap players from FM because money is hard to come by at first.

The first day you sign up will be spent mostly dealing with the background details of your club and picking the right squad, and then there will be a space of about a week to play friendlies and tweak tactics, build skills and generally sort yourself out before the start of the season. Then when the season begins it lasts about a month, during which time games are given deadline dates, and if the two people involved haven't played by that point one or both of the teams can be controlled by computer for that match, to make sure the season keeps flowing. This ensures that there are rarely problems involved with people not showing up when they're supposed to.

That's just one example of how well thought out the game is, they've clearly put a lot of effort into imagining the various issues that might come up with an online community of players and made smart moves to deal with issues, such as the one mentioned above. Similarly the user feedback system, working much like the eBay feedback system, works well, and is even worked into the game with manager descriptions in news items. For example, my manager was described as 'honorable' on account of my high sportsmanship rating. Its lovely little touches like this that make the game a joy to play, where even the little things and decisions you do have a visible and tangible effect on the gameworld.

However this is also where the majority of criticism for the game can be directed. The developers have clearly made a concerted effort to skew matters to favor casual gamers rather than people who put effort into the game. This is a smart game design move on the surface as it will increase the game's marketability and userbase, but bad in the sense that it ends up with them going 'too far' on a number of issues and compromising the integrity and realism of the game world.

For example, one can only have 5 players in their team protected by permanent contracts, which is a fairly absurd move designed to ensure that no team can just monopolize the best players, and that players constantly rotate around from team to team on a frequent basis. This heavily undermines the spirit of the game to run the 'club of your dreams', as they clearly don't realize how big a part player endearment plays in football club spirt and fandom. As a result this move simply ends up making the user very VERY aware that they are playing a videogame, rather than an effective simulation of football.

Similar to this is the decision to impose a 100% sales tax on all transfers for the first few weeks, going down to around 50% eventually. The aim of this is to prevent early players from signing the best players and then selling them at a massive profit in the first days of the game. I can understand the need for this to minimize the heavy advantage of the early bird, but 100%? that's just ludicrous. It would be like telling shops to sell all their goods at wholesale value, it's bad for the economy and the transfer market. Smaller taxes may have been a smart move, but such heavy ones simply serve to kill the market in the game for the first season. Stupid move.

It is just these few glaringly dumb moves to appease casual gamers that bring the game down in the end, but not enough to change how awesome the rest of the game has been pulled off. I definitely recommend this game to all football manager fans and to anyone who fancies trying an online game for a change.

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