Oh boy, do we love our football in Europe. And I'm not talking about your silly American variety either - no, I am discussing the beautiful game of Soccer. There are no helmets or genital protectors here, just millionaire playboys wearing knee-high socks and shuffling a leather ball into a net. It's a sport for real men; do you hear me USA? Yeah’ Adam Tingle is calling you out.
Developed by the Sports Interactive, Football Manager Live is an online mutation of the already hugely popular Football Manager series. This is a game where you assume managerial duties of a club (durr) and then proceed to throw countless hours of your life away getting angry at little coloured dots that represent players. While it is surely not as interactive as something like FIFA, the game is a complex and in-depth affair which will see your social life sapped away into a rich display of spread sheet stats and hare-brained tactics. To put it simply, Football Manager is opiate-like already, marrying this with the MMORPG is a recipe for ruin.
Football Manager Live was released in late 2008 and as stated before, is a variation on the original series format. Rather than playing with established league systems and known clubs, Sports Interactive have created a 'fantasy football' style of game in which players can play as little or as much as they want and still feel suitably involved. The upside to this is that the game is all inclusive and you won't have to spend the majority of your week pretending to be a virtual Alex Ferguson - the downside however is that some of the complexity and depth of the original FM series is lost in the online translation.
He's Football Crazy, Football Mad...
Like any MMORPG, FM Live starts with creation tools. As you assume the role of manager, you must select a profile (unfortunately no avatar, just stat page) and then customise your club; this ranges from name, stadium, kit selection and so forth. The creation of your club is very involving and goes a long way to involve the player in what is essentially a text based game, and this is also a well-crafted departure from the single player experience in which players usually assume control of already established club.
After deciding what color your team will represent and whether or not 'Thunder Dome' is the right stadium name, you are asked to select a game world. This for me is somewhat of a mixed issue. As the game runs in seasons, unless you subscribe or activate your game in the pre-season you will find yourself hurled into a game world at the mid-point, and this makes it hard to establish yourself. The game worlds offer league systems which differ on the amount of time you are willing to put into the game, and while this is a great idea if you are starting in the pre-season, if you are a little late you will find yourself in the late-comers league with a fairly poor squad and a serious wait before you can seriously get the ball rolling (excuse the pun) on your campaign.
There is also a problem that arises with account reactivation. As your squad of players are contract-based (more on this later) they will leave your club if you do not extend their services. This leads to a problem when re-subbing to the game after a period of time during mid-season as you will find yourself without a single player and with the transfer markets picked clean of any prospective good, cheap players.
Aside from the issues of the game worlds however, the newbie experience of FM Live is fairly accessible and easy to grasp. A tutorial wizard will lead you through the various steps of joining football associations, picking a squad, and grappling with the skill progression. The ability to request NPC challenges also help guide new comers into the experience before heading out and playing real people.
New Eden meets Old Trafford
Like any MMO worth its salt, FM Live offers a form of skill progression - namely Eve Online’s. Players choose a number of options from managerial, tactics, coaching, medical and more and these are trained in real-time - not unlike CCP's space fairing game. While some don’t like this approach to progression, it is perfect for Sports Interactive’s title as it allows the hardcore and casual to proceed without too much of a distinct difference or advantage. The problem arises here however, when time passes and veterans inevitably have spent much more in-game time than a fledgling manager – the developers do in some way solve this by resetting servers every so often but it is a cause for slight annoyance. You can be a little industrious however and use veterans to your advantage and get them to train up young players with their superior skills.
The need for a skill system in a Football Manager game is somewhat debatable. As you progress, options open up and this is Sports Interactive’s way of showing some sort of advancement throughout the game. The single player series however does a fine job of simply allowing the player to muddle through at their own pace with every available skill at their fingertips. I understand that MMO’s intrinsically need some sort of level system, and to a certain extent it does provide more things to do - but I feel FM Live would have been fine without it.
Match Day Excitement
At its core, FM Live is about being submerged in stat sheets, tactics, and constantly trying to find that next star and the game manages to do this fairly well. Surprisingly there is quite a lot to do in the game and the most exciting part – playing matches – is always something available to you.
As the game assigns leagues, you will have a steady stream of fixtures daily (the number depends on your chosen association) and on top of this are player-run competitions, leagues, cups and even NPC challenges. The player-run side of this game is very well organised and easy to engage with. Even during pre-season and mid-season there is always some sort of league to join and this is usually all driven by those playing with you. There is nothing more satisfying than lifting the ‘Angry Butcher Cup’ or some other insanely named competition.
As mentioned before, the NPC’s challenges are a good way to get into the game and also improve your team with. The challenges range from leagues to fictional cup-ties and even technical challenges such as not conceding a goal. While they don’t count to your overall competitive rank, these challenges do count towards a level system which is sort of a determiner for your overall skill as a team and also rewards you with points to spend on little extras such as mascots, different pitch visuals and so on.
It could be very easy for Sports Interactive to make this game seem a little too casual and ‘fantasy football’ but with tools available for players to create match content and the general ease of finding matches, there is definitely something here for the casual and hardcore. The amount of football you play is dependent on you and it’s great that player can decide.