Saturday, 8 January 2011

Football Manager - iconic management simulator or fatal timewaster?

It's fair to say that, judging by supporters' more reflective moments in public houses, embittered conversations following egregious home defeats, and the words adorning the pages of the thousands of fanzines across the length and breadth of the country, the vast majority of us believe that, given the opportunity, we could successfully manage our beloved football clubs. So what happens when fans are given the chance to do just that? You get Football Manager, which began life in its current guise in 2005, and has gone on to become the definitive football management simulator. As a patron of the Football Manager series since its conception, I long ago accepted that Football Manager would take precedence over many vital aspects of my life, including university coursework. Yet the series' addictiveness is matched by an unmatched attention to detail and realism. As such it has been revealed that Everton had used the extensive Football Manager database in conjunction with more orthodox techniques in order to scout potential signings and unearth talented youngsters who may have previously gone under the radar. Such a recommendation means the game should surely be sufficient for those of us in less immediate need of discovering a talented 18 year old available for peanuts with a glorious scoring pedigree in the Norwegian Premier League. Football Manager also has another string to its voluptuous bow; longevity. If you can stand the emergence of 'fake' players in order to keep the database of sufficient size once current players have retired, Football Manager is a game that can theoretically be played indefinitely. Personally speaking, on the previous incarnation I reached the year 2022 managing Real Madrid and the game showed no signs of slowing down.

So, you may well be thinking, with such a plethora of positive characteristics, that I would struggle to counter the above recommendation with a warning of any substance or relevance. Well don't speak too soon. Football Manager may be one of the most successful football management simulators, but this success has come at a price for some. Various reports in newspapers and online have, whether apocryphally or not, documented tales of woe including divorce and alienation, resulting from playing the game, branded addictive by many analysts, for too long. The game's 'addictiveness' has been seen to have a detrimental effect on other important aspects of the lives of its patrons, leading to social, family and sometimes even work obligations being ignored in favour of continued play. Football Manager's chief developer, Miles Jacobsen, has taken steps to combat this issue. Installing a clock to show the number of hours played on each game was certainly useful, and is arguably all the creators can do to try and prevent excessive play or 'addiction', which after all is the fault of the gamers themselves. The fact that I am currently playing Football Manager whilst writing this piece means that, even if I were in that way inclined, I will not comment upon others in a manner criticising the number of hours they spend playing the game. During university there is often a tendency to choose relaxation over hard work, and entire days can go by, particularly in first year, where work is entirely ignored, snacks are consumed with alarming regularity, friends fall by the wayside and Football Manager takes precedence.

Therefore, to summarise, as far as I am concerned the debate lies in where exactly the lines are supposed to be drawn. For with the increasing popularity of true-to-life gaming, interactive consoles such as the Wii and X-Box Kinect, and simulators such as The Sims, all of which in different ways provide consistently attractive alternatives to everyday life, will people just decide to live in a digital world rather than face reality? For Shrewsbury Town fans, and I apologise for mentioning your club it was the first in the lower leagues which occurred to me, I suppose there would be more chance of reaching the Premier League on Football Manager than in reality. Yet even more interesting is the game’s huge database. With Everton already having ‘signed-up’ Football Manager two years ago, putting a Premier League seal of approval on Miles Jacobsen’s brainchild, how long until scouting becomes a moribund process and clubs of the calibre of Manchester United are using the FM database to discover the next ‘golden generation’? This then begs the question, how accurate can a game, and we must remember that it is no more than that, actually be? Furthermore, with the hundreds of millions of pounds being generated in sponsorship, commercial opportunities and television rights, is an increasing reliance on the Football Manager series a terrifying proposition, or simply a sign of the times. I’ll let you decide, for I think it’s time to return to my game, and try to keep QPR in the Premier League…

Photos courtesy of (in order): EPL Talk, Pocket Lint

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