Wot I Think: Football Manager 2012

By Adam Smith on October 26th, 2011 at 1:13 pm.

Foot-to-ball managers do not require heads, only patience and plenty of cones

My proud home city of Manchester still trembles from the result of the weekend’s derby, with legions of red-shirted, red-faced men weeping openly in the streets and doubting all that they previously held true. There are far more seisimic events in the world of foot-to-ball though. I’ve been attempting to overturn the order by means of Football Manager 2012 and here’s Wot I Think.

I am one of the many and I speak with their voice, which may or may not be a System Shock 2 reference in a piece on Football Manager. Oh sod it, it is. The many I mean, of course, are those of us who are compelled to buy the new Football Manager game every year, or perhaps every two or three years, allowing it to devour a quite stupid amount of hours. Why do we do it and is it worth doing it again with the 2012 edition right now? I shall attempt to answer these questions. The latter is easy (yes), the former is far more interesting and far more complex.

Let’s go with the easy question first because it won’t take long and it’s what a lot of you are probably here for. Details on what’s changed, reasoned thoughts on whether I think those changes are for the better or not, and a few thoughts on what I’d like to see next time around.

Since most of the people who were interested have probably bought the game already, I’ll go a bit further in the second part of this meandering monologue. I’ll say something about why Football Manager is an important game to me and try to pin down its brilliance, not treating it as an anomaly enjoyed by people who otherwise use their PCs solely for watching goalkeeper goof compilations on Youtube, but fitting it into the pantheon of the games that made me and continue to define me.

foot-to-ball in progress

Should be fun.

So, what’s different? What’s that 12 all about? It sounds like an odd thing to say in a game where you’ll spend most of your time looking at stats, sliders and words, but some of the most important changes seem purely cosmetic at first. The layout of almost every screen in the game has been completely redesigned, ensuring that there’s more useful information available at any one time and links to related data are easier to find.

This is done with more sensible use of tabs and a more intelligent pyramid structure that provides a little about a lot and allows each grouping of information to be explored further when desired or required. I’ve often found layout changes take me a couple of weeks to become fully accustomed to, time in which I seem to chase my own tail around the periphery of my squad, but this already feels like the most natural to date. It’s cleaner, it uses the resolution its provided with far more sensibly, and it cuts down on time spent back-tracking in search of specifics.

There are other visual tweaks, to the 3d match engine. Are they important? Probably not. There was a startling moment when I saw the first flare lit in the crowd and believed my entire stadium was about to turn to ashes. It didn’t, but I did lose the match 0-3. More impressive than flares is the new director camera, which selects angles during a match and actually makes watching highlights far more exciting. Yes, exciting. I am capable of being excited by tiny men on a football pitch who somewhat stubbornly and ineptly attempt to obey my screamed commands.

foot-to-ball continues to occur

Their behaviour isn’t stubborn and inept because of a failing in the game itself, it’s because I’m managing NK Rudes in the Croation second division. My star player will probably earn less in his career than Wayne Rooney earns while scratching his arse and controlling a version of himself on Fifa at a press event, but they’re a loyal bunch, my Rudies.

In order to explore the workings of FM 2012, I decided to play a couple of seasons with three different clubs. First of all, Bury FC. Ideal because they’re the first team I saw live (my grandpa didn’t miss a home match except when it was considered proper to be fighting in a war) and because they won promotion last season so struggle lies in the future. Struggling is fun and the achievement of hard-won survival in a league is often more of a thrill than promotion was the season before.

Next up were the reigning Premier League champions, who are undergoing a fairly significant squad restructuring at present. That’s another part of the game I always enjoy; trying to build something with youth and prestige. I’ve been fairly successful, although the other Manchester have become the dominant force in my fictional foot-to-ball world. Managing Manchester United involves appeasing money-hungry agents and dabbling on big names in the transfer market.

a profile of Richard Hughes. Because the profile screenshot of my Rudes' player is too depresssing

Agents have been fleshed out considerably since their late arrival in the series and they’re an unpleasant side of the game that it’s impossible to ignore. There’s also lots of new work on youth contracts, which makes building a team from near-infancy more realistic and more viable. I like the implementation of all this contractual malarkey, even if it can make tying up transfers a more drawn-out process than I’d like. It does lead to gazumping and bitter rivalry between clubs, which is all part of the fun.

Enough of the top flight though. After the Red Devils there’s NK Rudes, who handily highlight the most significant new feature in the game: the ability to add and remove playable leagues during a game, rather than only having the option at setup. Because having sixty odd playable leagues greedily eats up computing power, this is the first time in the series’ history where I’ve been able to indulge my desire to be a great nomadic manager. Starting at a random club in a league I know nothing about, my aim is to travel the world, experiencing foot-to-ball management in every timezone.

Never heard of NK Rudes? Neither had I. Here’s a quote from the club’s official website to introduce you to their particular brand of foot-to-ball.

“A few boys gathered on the meadow “Celina” was create simple “krpenjača”. “Krpenjača” is old expression for ball made of simple rags. Shortly after that came out real madness for that unusual thing which will become the most important sideshow thing on the world. New born players were roast by the parents because they were gathering football team. However love for football was too strong and every day was stronger. Boys who are kicked the ball on the meadows in Rudeš has became boys which wants bigger challenges.”

not NK Rudes club information because my silly screenshots came out all wrong in the wash

That is all you need to know about the real NK Rudes. As for my NK Rudes, we’re doing very well, thanks for asking. Mid-table mediocrity was our aim for season one and we achieved it comfortably. I’ve sold players for more than they are worth and I’ve bought young players whose value should skyrocket in coming years. I’ll hopefully jump ship to greater things in a couple of years’ time and because I can add any league, I could be heading to Korea or to the Americas, to Europe or to Australasia. That’s a very good thing because it opens up the world, allowing all kinds of stories to unfold.

And that’s what Football Manager is really all about. Narrative. As with my favourite grand strategy titles, it allows me to oversee a series of abstract numbers and names, and create entire histories and futures for them. It doesn’t just simulate football matches, or even leagues – it simulates the world of football, with all manner of details from World Cup bids to agent-player-manager relationships playing out behind the scenes.

Everything that matters is tracked somewhere and the true brilliance of that only really hits you when you realise that the only thing that really matters, what all that work was about, is putting the ball in the net. Preferably more often than the other team. For all the complexities and calculations, it’s still all about the unexpected freak goal or the fluid movement when all the planning pays off for one instant.

Sometimes I think Sports Interactive have perfected the formula and that they are essentially selling roster updates. It’s true that the main changes, switchable leagues aside, are concerned with streamlining and more helpful feedback (particularly in team talks, where the addition of ‘tone’ is far more useful than it might sound), but it’s enough to change the way I’ll play the game. And that’s enough to make me relegate FM 2011 to the scrapheap.

this is how foot-to-ball begins. How it ends is up to you.

My main issue with the series remains the same though and it’s something that has only become apparent since I was introduced to Out Of The Park Baseball, which is in my view the only superior management simulation out there. What Out Of The Park does that Football Manager doesn’t, and perhaps never will, is to encompass the entire history of its chosen sport. A career can begin at the beginnings of baseball, in the 19th century, with leagues and franchises expanding and forming as history dictated. It’s even possible to randomise drafts and rule changes going into the future.

That’s not just a gimmick though, it allows the simulation engine to really show its chops, coping with wildly shifting tactics. I’m not convinced Football Manager is up to that but I’d love to see it try. I want the game equivalent of Jonathan Wilson’s excellent Inverting the Pyramid, forcing manager’s to adapt to changing tactics and styles of play, and even introducing their own, creating not just the future of foot-to-ball but recreating the history as well, Edwardian moustaches and all.

But that’s still why I love the game, because it is about creation, of tales, trouncings and triumphs. Just as it can be hard to understand the appeal of hardcore flight simulations if planes really aren’t your thing, it’s hard to understand the appeal of Football Manager without having an interest in foot-to-ball itself. There’s no better game to indulge that interest though. It’s difficult to think of any computer game that simulates specific, self-contained events in the real world in this much detail. Playing as Rudes, I am not just a backwater manager, I’m also an observer of a possible future for the game as it plays out across the globe.

they are keeping a tight defensive line. Know that.

In some ways, I enjoy Football Manager in the same way that I enjoy Europa Universalis. Both do a bloody good job of convincing me that my computer contains a world that operates around me but not entirely because of me. My RPG itch is even scratched to an extent, with the play between personalities and the quest for constant improvement.

A huge part of me would love to see a simulation of this depth applied to a fantasy sport, or even to geopolitics or film studio management – something potentially complex that could be reduced to statistical manipulation and tactical instruction, then elevated to the level of grand narrative. But, for now, I’ve got my foot-to-ball and I’m more than happy with it. After all, it’s “the most important sideshow thing on the world”. NK Rudes said so.

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68 Comments »

  1. iARDAs says:

    I am playing this game as we speak. Great game if you enjoy football games. Although the new implemantations have stalled a bit, a big overhaul and many bug fixes makes this the best FM game yet.

    • 4026 says:

      EDIT: Well, bugger. A kindly mod’s been through here and trashed everything I was referring to. Ignore this, please.

  2. kukouri says:

    I don’t even like football that much but still found this series enjoyable. That has to say something.

    • Bullwinkle says:

      That’s always been the barrier for me with these types of games: a lack of interest in the underlying sport. I can’t stand baseball, either. I really wish someone would make a reliable game about NFL football.

  3. dtgreen says:

    I’m looking for something to push me over the edge and ditch FM2011. The ‘ability comparison list’ in one of the above screen shots has done just the trick!

    • Premium User Badge Adam Smith says:

      The interface is so much more friendly in so many ways. Makes a big difference across the board.

    • shaydeeadi says:

      Yeah that ability comparison feature almost compels me to purchase the game. But I only got 2011 a few months ago and haven’t finished ascending the glorious Southampton FC to world domination.
      So 2013 for me.

  4. 4026 says:

    I’m confused. This article appears to be both serious and about foot-to-ball. Something must be terribly wrong in RPS Towers. Did you have to lock John in a cupboard to be able to post this?

    • fallingmagpie says:

      I, for one, welcome our RPS member with actual football knowledge.

      And our new insect overlords.

  5. Jockie says:

    Finally an RPS article on one of the most important simulations series ever, that doesn’t reduce the game to a few puns about the insignificance of playing games (yes I’m aware it was all intended light-heartedly, but as a site where serious criticism is not shied away from, it did annoy me that FM was so ill-treated, it’s not even particularly niche).

    I suppose FM does look like an ugly impenetrable spreadsheet to people who are not interested in football (or have not been with the series since its more simplistic beginnings). But it’s a spreadsheet with heart and I have more anecdotes about FM than pretty much any other game (admittedly very boring anecdotes if you’re not also a devotee).

    • sinister agent says:

      it’s not even particularly niche.

      It really is.

    • Jockie says:

      Considering it consistently tops the PC retail and Steam sales chart for the UK on a yearly basis and got to No 3 in the all-formats retail chart (as a pc only game) I’d suggest it’s less niche than erm… every other pc-only game.

      Or rephrased, it’s the biggest niche in PC gaming apart from the Sims.

    • Kilrathi says:

      I’d say Minecraft is more niche than FM.

    • sinister agent says:

      It has so little competition that its title is also the name of the genre. It’s niche almost by definition.

    • Jockie says:

      There are others, Fifa Manager and Championship Manager still put out yearly titles in the genre..

      But that aside, generally when you are talking about niche, you’re talking about a narrow market sector. FM is too popular for that, it sells well, even outside the ‘niche’ of videogames.

    • ichbinspikeface says:

      STOP SAYING NICHE!

    • El_Emmental says:

      NICHE NI… NIETZSCHE !

      In terms of sales, if we count FPS games sales and Foot-o-ball management games (= Football/Fifa/Championship Manager) sales, FM games are a “niche” genre.

    • Big Murray says:

      People telling Football Manager anecdotes always makes me think of this:

    • luckystriker says:

      Or, for a less flippant and dismissive story of the FM narrative: http://www.runofplay.com/category/vercelli/
      (obligatory Pro Vercelli post for those in the know)

  6. frenz0rz says:

    “A huge part of me would love to see a simulation of this depth applied to a fantasy sport”

    Blood Bowl. Please Cyanide, a BB game even approaching something with the depth of FM would be amazing. I’d likely never find the time to play anything else.

    • Jubaal says:

      Hah you beat me to it frenz0rz. I’d sell my kids (Sorry kids) to get my grubby mits on a Blood Bowl equivilant of FM.

      Damn, I’m going to be thinking about this for weeks now.

    • Vurogj says:

      “A huge part of me would love to see a simulation of this depth applied to a fantasy sport, or even to geopolitics or film studio management”

      Film studio management for me (although BB would also be spiffy), Hollywood Mogul was very close, but never quite got there, and I’d really like someone to have another go.

    • MerseyMal says:

      I’d personally like to have a record label/publisher one.

    • leeder krenon says:

      rockstar ate my hamster.

    • BooleanBob says:

      http://www.mobygames.com/game/rockstar

      My 13 year-old self’s favourite bit about this game was how on key part of resource management revolved around the drugs/health/creativity axis. And that each drug had a different psychedelic effect on the screen (which, considering the whole interface was ASCII, was pretty impressive).

    • Kieron Gillen says:

      I’ve got a huge love for Rockstar, pretty much for the reasons you describe.

      KG

  7. MrNice says:

    “the ability to add and remove playable leagues during a game”

    That’s very good news, I played most football managers but still haven’t done a real true manager career by starting unemployed and see how good I could do.It was too annoying to be restricted to leagues you had to choose before you start the game.

  8. Vegard Pompey says:

    I so want to play a game like this that has nothing to do with football (or any other sport).

    I think I’d like to see a complex sim game about running a thieves’ guild in a fantasy setting. (Such guilds are one of my favorite fantasy tropes.) If only I was a more diligent programmer.

  9. sinister agent says:

    The last paragraph reminds me of an old idea I pondered briefly. I’ve thought for a while now that a game about managing a team of mercenaries could be tonnes of fun. Like Jagged Alliance, but with even more personalities and more about indirect control, organising them into squads and sending them off to carry out missions etc.

    I don’t understand the people who buy more than one football management game every five or six years – madness. And I’ve never been a huge football fan. But I can see how these games can suck you in.

    • DiamondDog says:

      “I don’t understand the people who buy more than one football management game every five or six years – madness.”

      Because it’s a disease. A horrible, horrible disease. There are some really nice improvements and changes in FM12, but honestly I could have continued my Spurs save from FM11 until next year and been perfectly happy. I managed to skip FM10, the same year I also skipped the new PES game. But when I played the demo for this year I knew I my willpower didn’t stand a chance. Plus it’s just sat there on Steam… a few mouse-clicks and it’s yours. What’s £30 pounds a year?

      Help me.

  10. V. Profane says:

    For the first time in years I haven’t had the new game from day 1. In fact I’ve barely touched the demo. Perhaps when Newcastle start getting beat I’ll feel the urge again.

  11. Gerbick says:

    Adam you swine! I was trying to ignore the fact this had been released. I only got FM11 in the summer (thanks crazy Steam Sales) and so wasn’t going to pay any attention to FM12, but your excellent article has made rethink my position.

    And a Blood Bowl Manager would, indeed, be a most glorious creation.

  12. Mr Bismarck says:

    “A huge part of me would love to see a simulation of this depth applied to a fantasy sport”

    On the NFL. For the love of god make an American Football game with this depth. I want to start as assistant to the assistant special teams coach at a Canadian High School and then work my way to the top! Or the Miami Dolphins. Whichever.

    also, the only major thing missing from FM now is the ability to transfer save games from older versions. I always feel a wrench leaving a previous version for a new one as I’m unable to take my world with me.

    I love the 17 year old Brazilian midfielder my scout found rooting through rubbish in Sao Paulo who has a three for bravery and all the pace of a lawn chair but sits in the middle of the park passing the ball around as if he has the exact same top-down all-encompassing view that I do. Don’t make me leave him behind… don’t smash what we have… *sniff*

  13. leeder krenon says:

    Out of the Park Baseball may have all that history, but it lacks the soul of Football Manager. It is intensely dry.

  14. Alphabet says:

    Problem is the more recent versions of the game require so long to play a season – even getting out of pre-season is an evening’s work….too slow for me.

    • strangelingo says:

      Very true. That’s why I started to start all of my games as unemployed couple of years ago, then fast-forwarding half a season and taking over some underachieving club in mid-season turmoil. It almost always warrants an interesting start to the game.

    • Ian says:

      Thanks to the analysis tool I find even as a new team the first pre-season doesn’t take long. Depending on how much you need to scout players, etc. But it’s quicker to whizz through pre-season matches on commentary only and then use the analysis bit at the end of the game (as well as replays of the goals I conceded) to see where the problems are.

      It’s definitely a more long-winded game though, no doubt about it.

  15. Khann says:

    Formula One has a pretty solid international audience…. where is my F1 Manager :(

    • leeder krenon says:

      that’s been attempted a few times. i remember having a fairly fun game called grand prix manager in the 90s.

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grand_Prix_Manager_2

      seems someone is still issuing updates!

    • Mr Bismarck says:

      It’s on its way!

      GPRM will be the salve for what ails you. When it is released in the year 2047.

      One day GPRM will either be revealed as the best Formula 1 management game ever, or the best practical joke on Formula 1 fans ever. Opinions differ as to which is more likely.

    • Gothnak says:

      I have one i’ve been working on sitting unfinished on my PC at home… Currently i have a fully mocked up race around Spa working just fine.. However, after developing games for other people all day, the last thing you want to do is carry on at home… Get me a year’s salary and i’ll finish it off :).

    • Khann says:

      I’ll give you 50L of water and a kiss on the cheek?

    • Gothnak says:

      hehe, i dunno what the gf would say about that… My game concentrates on slightly different aspects to previous games… i wanted to simplify the money a bit, merchandising and sponsors etc… And put the complexity into race strategy, driver commands and how to develop, test and set up the car. As a huge F1 fan, i’ve always thought that’s what the fans really care about anyway…

    • MrNice says:

      Pole Position 2010 by Kalypso is a decent F1 manager game.

    • Khann says:

      Absolutely. Driver choice/training would obviously have to be fairly important, too.

      The BATracer guys have just released an interesting addition to their thing. Very cool how they’ve dealth with creating a unique design that has an actual aero effect.

      Then you’ve got these guys doing some pretty cool things as well.

      It’s nice to see people trying new things… just a matter of someone wrapping it up in a nice little package that suits my nede perfectly ;)

    • Megadyptes says:

      @leeder krenon, I spent so much time playing Grand Prix Manager 2 when I was a kid. awesome game.

  16. Jac says:

    “A career can begin at the beginnings of baseball, in the 19th century, with leagues and franchises expanding and forming as history dictated”

    I’ve always thought a civ type game / mod from a football club perspective would be awesome. Starting in the late 1800′s.

    “the premier league was founded in a distant land”

  17. Gamer-DealZ says:

    I would love to see this game compared to EA’s FIFA Manager 12.

  18. Jarenth says:

    I personally don’t give one whit about football games (of any shape), but this was some enjoyable writing. It’s certainly helped me understand why you and other players (my own little brother among them) enjoy these games so much. Thank you for that.

  19. Stellar Duck says:

    A bit of a strange question, but are tackles present? I mean as a game mechanic? A mate claims that they aren’t and that seems strange to me.

    Anyone?

  20. Pijama says:

    Bloody great work, Adam. About time that the Hivemind had a proper foot-to-ball aspect to it. :D I was waiting a little before getting sucked in, but I think it won’t matter anymore…

    BTW, 6-1 must have been pretty dire, eh… HAHA

  21. Arvind says:

    Proper football game coverage on RPS?
    I’m so happy right now!

  22. McCool says:

    Stonking WIT. This has pretty much swayed me, I’ll have to set aside a month or two this year for FM.

  23. Ian says:

    It’s hard for me to express how awesome I think a “start anywhere in history” aspect to football management games would be, but with so many leagues in so many countries for so many years it’s probably impractical on any other scale than the one we already have with the likes of Championship Manager Legends or whatever it is.

  24. Erithtotl says:

    No way I would rate OOTP above FM. I like OOTP too and was a baseball fan long before being a Football (soccer) fan, but OOTP lacks the feeling of a ‘world’ like FM does. It’s an excellent simulation, but I don’t really feel like a person living in the baseball universe like FM makes me feel with soccer.

    • datom says:

      Horses for courses. To me, FM is an RPG, where I track a ‘career’ through numerous opportunities, ups and downs etc. It’s about the history of the ‘manager’. It’s unbeatable in that regard.

      But OOTP beats it hands down in 2 places:
      1) Macro-managing a whole univese
      2) On-line play

      For macro-managing a whole universe, where I can make a tweak, sim 20 seasons and see how it affected it, nothing beats OOTP. OOTP is about the production of page after page of fake statistical truth, about careers of players and histories of teams that never existed, the construction of a fully fledged fantasy reality.

      As for on-line – my online league I participate in is finishing up its 25th season (real world 10 years). No FM (or CM) experience equates to that – of watching dynasties rise and fall, of players peak and troughs. Our excel ss that tracks all the things the game doesn’t, which is very small (WS stats etc.), runs to 6.2 MB!

      Ask me who won the English Premier League in any of the 20 seasons I managed East Fife to greatness, I can’t tell you. I bet I could name many of the starting lineups of each WS champion in my online league.

  25. Megadyptes says:

    Calling football ‘foot-to-ball’ is getting really old.

    • Om says:

      True but this is by some distance the best FM piece that RPS has done in some time. Probably since the guest WIT for FM2011. You can immediately tell when a reviewer/author understands the game, usually by the absence of cod Victorian

      That said, ‘foot-to-ball’ is probably an RPS tradition at this point. It is old and not particularly funny but the hat must be tipped to these strange customs. It’s easily ignored though when the rest of the article is this good

    • El_Emmental says:

      To me, it’s a healthy reminder (sometime not really necessary) they’re not taking things too seriously, it’s like calling “manshoot” some gameplay/game because of the over-over-done “shoot at enemy to win” gameplay dynamic sweating out of it.

      I would be scared and sad if RPS ever turns “this time we’re serious about that topic/game, there is no room for jokes ! >:( “, it would be killing our inner child at point-blank with a double-barreled shotgun (non-DLC exclusive).

  26. shaydeeadi says:

    It always blows my mind how the game gets countless future real world transfers correct without even trying.

  27. Big Murray says:

    Why can’t someone make a football management game?

    Not a simulation, a game?

  28. 0over0 says:

    I just finished my first season with Farnborough, we won BSS and are moving up to the big time–yes, the BSP! Of course, the board has severely handicapped me–that is, they’ve broken both knees and beat me with a bat–by giving me a transfer budget of 0 (yes, just a goose egg) and a weekly salary limit of $13k.
    You’d think I’d get more respect for playing an entire season in a few days with not a single game replayed or any outside tools. Oh, well. I’ll enjoy my time in BSP before the inevitable relegation and the boot.
    Some people play for money, some people play with money, FMers play for love…of pain.

  29. Johnny Go-Time says:

    The first Manager game I ever tried was ChampMan 2010, and I loved it (much to my surprise.) I recently got FM2011 on a Steam Sale — and just can’t get into it…The stats and organization are so much clunkier and user-unfriendly than ChampMan…So I’m afraid to shell out for FM2012 (much as I love the Guardiola-style vest on the cover.)
    Tough spot to be in, because I don’t think ChampMan is coming back any time soon..?