The 3D view, the press conferences, team talks, affiliated clubs, and facegen – it is just a small fraction of the options that were added to Football Manager over the last few years. All of them add to the game but it must be said that the game did really well without them. Every new version of FM, and formerly also of CM, was a best-seller and a great success. This makes one think about the causes of such popularity. It seems that the main reason is rather obvious – simply, it has always been the best football management game on the market. And while it was the opinion of the majority of the buyers (as it was the best-selling game) it was a subjective one. It is worth to raise a question of why did the SI game gain so much popularity and gather so many fans?
One can say that it is because Football Manager is the most advanced football management game. But is it really true? If you take a look at only the number of options then FIFA Manager, with an army of financial, club infrastructure or personal life options is way better. So, the rub does not lie here, and it is not the reason why every year the fans buy new version of the game. The right answer for the question is, in my opinion, even more obvious yet clichéd - FM has a magic of its own. And this is what makes that every one of us undoubtedly had a period in his life when he just could not stop playing. And although for some it is a thing of the past, others are still experiencing it, thus proving that the magic does not die with changing number in the game's title. So, at this stage we come to the main question – why is the Sports Interactive football management game so magical?
Each fan can be dragged by something else, however, if we talk about the magic of the whole series, we have to consider the common elements of all versions. These elements stem from certain decisions that were made almost twenty years ago by the game makers. SI once decided on a particular way they would like their game to take and to this day have not strayed from the path. I would like to discuss three elements FM is characterised by that, in my book, add up to make the best game of its kind, and at the same time providing answers to all the previously asked questions.
Number one - realism. The players expect the game to recreate reality as accurately as possible. In a game between Manchester United and West Brom we want the former to win most of the time and, as a consequence to compete for the championship with Arsenal, Chelsea and Liverpool, and WBA to fight against relegation. The realism of the seasons results from the realism of an individual which is indispensable in this kind of games. To attain it two things are required an accurate data base and a well-rounded match engine. The Sports Interactive idea of fans creating the data base was a bang on and today the FM's one has no competition. However, from the programming point of view it is the match engine that decides on the realism of the game. One can have accurate data, make a number of calculations and return always the same result. However, virtually no one would be happy with it. The devil is in the details, and in this instance it is the right balance between players' ability, tactics, and variability. And so, despite the number of bugs and mistakes, the FM's match engine is out of reach for the competitors.
Number two - interactivity. We want the decisions we make during the game to have an influence on it. Thinking of football management game we mainly have tactics in mind – it is obvious that they should correspond with what is happening on the pitch. So, taking things further – being in charge of West Brom we would like to be able to win against Manchester United, if we use adequate tactics and team and individual instructions, of course. No one would like a game where he is always bound to lose against certain opponents regardless of how much work he puts on analysing the opponent or setting his own tactics. I was never a tactical expert, so it was really difficult for me to win against stronger sides, yet there are people for who tactics is as simple as 2 plus 2. So, one must admit that in FM our decisions have an impact on the proceedings of a match.
Number three - difficulty level. Whilst the previous two points cannot really be questioned, here there can be different opinions. So let me clarify what I have in mind. Speaking of the level of difficulty I mean that in an SI production both the human and the computer have equal chances. It is not typical of football management games as some of the titles offer the possibility of choosing the difficulty level what, in my opinion, artificially alters the reality. The FM creators stick to a different policy. From many of their statements a conclusion can be drawn that the artificial intelligence is programmed in such a way that it is given exactly the same set of possibilities as the human player. For instance, while setting the tactics of their team the virtual managers have the same set of options as we do. This makes the level of your opponent not only dependant on the ability of particular players but also of a manager – just like in real life. Thanks to that the difficulty level changes many times during the season with changing opponents.
There is only one problem left, which careful reader may have already noticed – those three elements seem to stand in contradiction with one another. We have the equal chances policy, we have the realism making it possible for a better team to lose against a weaker opponent, finally there is the interactivity which makes it possible to win against a stronger team when we are managing a weaker team provided we use adequate tactics. So where is the logic? This situation would be coherent and logical if we took the human factor out. However, everything can be explained with human as part of the equation. Equal chances mean the computer and the human have the same set of options. Everything comes down to how they utilize it. If a human player can outsmart the virtual manager then the fact that we win against a stronger opponent is not a sign of lack of realism, it is just that the world has got a brand new brilliant manager, better than the rest. And as the artificial intelligence created by SI can be outsmarted makes the result of each and every game depending solely on us. And that is what the FM magic is for me.
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