Wot I Think: Football Manager 2015

Another year, another trip to the dugout. It’s tempting to think of football as nothing more than a billionaire’s playground wracked with corruption and capable of reducing a supporter to tears for all the wrong reasons. The beautiful game can be extremely ugly. But there are still tales of tiny triumphs, of giant killing and last minute survival, and of windswept terraces on a winter’s evening. Football Manager 2015 captures the tears and the triumphs, but this year there’s a somewhat heavier dose of the former. Here’s wot I think.

There are some people, I’m reliably informed by internet forums and comments, who skip a year of Football Manager when the vintage doesn’t seem particularly potent. I’m not one of those people.

For those who do buy the new version every year, the opportunity to access accurate real world data and updated player ratings is a big draw. I’m not a slave to the real world data because a huge part of my interest in the game lies in its ability to create alternate footballing futures – starting with a new season’s release feels like hitting the reset button on a fascinating scientific experiment. All deviations from the norm are expunged and I’m back in the same world that everyone else is playing in.

In that sense, while I appreciate the accuracy of the fresh data, it’s also something of a gale force wind that doesn’t care for the house of cards Panini Stickers I’ve been building. My final FM 14 career ran into 2036 and I decided from the beginning that I’d manage teams in as many countries as possible. Sources tell me that David Moyes has now decided to emulate my globetrotting, with a post in the Peruvian second division lined up for the 2015/16 season.

Why move on to a new version of the game at all then? I could join the historical dugouts in which Champ Manager 01/02 is still considered the pinnacle of the beautiful game rather than abandoning the world I’ve built every time September rolls around, preparing to start all over again.

Beyond the trickiness of the tactics and the narrative evolution of the simulated world, Football Manager fascinates me because it’s a series that has arguably come close to perfecting its formula in the past. Instead of simply updating teamsheets, however, Sports Interactive have rewritten entire sections of the game, as well as adding components to reflect the changing nature of football.

I usually find the process interesting even when the results are disappointing. This release is an exception. For the first time in years, Football Manager’s arrival is making me nostalgic for the past rather than excited about the resent. I’ve still moved on, FM 14 now relegated to whatever void lies beyond the Recycle Bin, but if there’s anything outstanding to justify the leap, I haven’t found it yet.

In recent years, the direction of the series has shifted significantly. Broadly speaking, Football Manager is moving away from the abstract – slider bars and stats – and toward a simualtion of the actual duties of a human being responsible for the management of a football team. There are still levels of abstraction of course – no Oculus Rift enabled simulation of kicking a boot at someone’s hairdo while surrounded by naked sweaty men – but the emphasis is on giving instructions to and having conversations with individual entities rather than controlling a sheet of stats from on high.

For me, the infiltration of RPG mechanics into the game is a positive. Player roles, which have been expanded and improved this year, are more immediately engaging than the paradoxically vague precision of a screenful of sliders, and private conversations and team meetings add personality to the game. Interactions with figures in the media, board members and players are all as good as they’ve ever been, and there’s the tantalising glimpse of what they might eventually become, but FM 15 is one more step down a long road.

With the previous release, Sports Interactive reached one of their destinations, overhauling the treatment of tactics. While the character-driven aspects of the series expanded in 14 as well, they represented the beginning of an idea rather than the end of it. Relationships need to matter over time, in a business which involves movement from club to club, and changing allegiances, as well as pressure to produce results, from media and managers alike.

FM 15 pushes toward a system that makes the most of rivalries, playing on memories of victories and losses past, as well as harsh words exchanged via the distorting megaphone of the media. In the number-crunching, behind the scenes, there is probably a lot of machinery driving these relationships than there was in FM 14, but the shift toward convincing ‘actors’ rather than datasheets makes me more inclined to judge what’s on-stage rather than the elements working in the wings.

For those who delegate teamtalks and press conferences, a swathe of the additions will be meaningless, and for those of us who enjoy the roleplay aspect of the game, there’s precious little new in terms of dialogue options or reactions. Within a couple of seasons, conversations and conferences have become as predictable and repetitive as Andy Townsend’s commentary.

Similarly, Player Roles haven’t been changed drastically. I’ve found the four new entries far more useful at higher level management jobs than in my current role at Bury FC (like a frustrated Junior Executive, I narrowly missed promotion in 2014/15 and 2015/16, lived beyond my means and am now struggling with my finances) but that’s probably realistic. Tell some meat and potatoes league two defender to perform as an inverted wing back and he’ll probably just ask you who he’s supposed to be man-hugging during corner kicks.

The new match engine is attractive, but I’ve seen more defensive blunders than should be expected. Particularly when leaving a through ball for the goalkeeper, players seem to have a habit of switching off despite the presence of an opponent and the static nature of the man between the sticks. There have already been improvements during the beta stage but in attacking play, shots from extremely tight angles seem to hit the target more often than is probable. Players know this as well, able to calculate the uncanny odds and preferring to take a pop rather than cutting the ball back to a chum.

In terms of outright success, the interface and scouting are the places to look. The interface takes a while to get the hang of, like updating your OS and finding buttons have shifted around the screen, but information is linked intelligently from page to page, and it’s possible to perform most minor duties by clicking through from the newsfeed rather than delving into submenus. If anything has convinced me that the jump to FM 15 was worthwhile, it’s that. The interface changes.

Complex and potentially confusing as the game is, a cleverly rejigged interface isn’t to be sniffed at but it’s disappointing not to be enthusing about the character creation or relationships instead. The line between tracksuit and tactical manager, and the stats that go toward your player character, don’t have enough of a direct impact on the day-to-day job to be meaningful. Once I’d clicked through the options at the beginning of my career, I didn’t find reason to think about them again.

Scouting is more pleasing, and in keeping with the more believable trajectory of the series. An unknown talent is no longer Schrödinger’s youth player, with the potential to be either a mess or a Messi while an unknown quantity, and only revealed to be one or the other as soon as scout looks at him. Scouting a player now narrows the range of his stats and the more you look, the more accurate the readings become. Having knowledge of different geographical areas and competitions, or scouts in position to keep an eye on regions and individuals, pulls every stat toward its true number. Manage a poverty-stricken club and you’re doomed to take a punt on players represented by a muddle of numbers. Sign them, become familiar with their foibles, and the horrible truth is revealed.

Credit should be given to the reactive tactics of opposing managers as well, although it’s impossible to judge how well that feature will hold up over months of playing. There does seem to be a more direct and obvious reaction to situations in a match though, with more flexibility on show from the AI. Tactical substitutions, reactions to injuries and going behind, and counters to the player’s own plans all seem more varied and more direct.

There’s no doubt that come this time next year, I’ll have played FM 15 more than just about any other game. It’s a fixture in my life and this version isn’t fundamentally flawed, but on the surface it’s a baby step in the ongoing process and the majority of the changes feel like the edges of systems that are still working toward career-long implementation.

Last year, I said that FM 14 “feels like the pinnacle of this particular generation” and perhaps that was true in part, but the nature of the series is that where the tactical overhaul was all but completed, the mechanical introduction of character had only just begun. FM 15’s expansion of the simulation and continued introduction of roleplaying aspects is building toward something but at the moment, there’s still a lot of scaffolding in place.

39 Comments

  1. Velko says:

    I have a weird question.

    Is FM worth it, if you understand next to nothing about foot-to-ball? I might be interested in a well-made management game, where you manage… something. Could I play this if I all the tactics are meaningless series of numbers to me, and if all the foot-to-baller names I remember from the top of my head are Messi and Pele?

    • Zankman says:

      I think you would lack the immersion factor in that case, unless the scenario in which you got *into* football.

      • Hroppa says:

        I picked up FM2012 a while back, and it was good for a dozen hours of entertainment, despite my complete lack of interest in football. I’ll probably pick up FM2014 when it’s on a nice sale.

      • MadMad118 says:

        it’s FOOT-TOO BALL!!

    • Fishbreath says:

      I’m an American, so my experience with what is most commonly called football is pretty slim—a year of it played in school, and following my younger brother’s school career. I own FM2012 and FM2014, and they’ve taught me plenty. FM2014 or later is more highly recommended—instead of opaque sliders, you have discrete options for most tactics stuff, and you get helpful tooltips in the case that you can’t remember exactly what a False Nine is.

    • protorp says:

      I think FM (as a genre pretty much in its own right) is ripe for games adaptating the broad format and mechanics to different settings, to appeal to folk just like thee and I…

      Mercernary Warband Manager seems the most obvious, but Mafia Family Manager and Borgia Papal Election Manager also spring to mind.

      Or does something else to scratch this abstract managment itch exist already? I already know and love King of Dragon Pass…

      • thekelvingreen says:

        Games Workshop’s Mordheim is more or less Mercenary Warband Manager, or at least the tabletop game is. I don’t know how close the computerey version is to that.

    • Wulfram says:

      I like it, and I probably know as little about football as is possible for an englishman.

      (Or at least I did before I started playing it. Now I’m oddly well informed about the Norwegian 1st division)

    • Big Murray says:

      As someone in the same boat as you who has tried many times to get into Foot-to-ball Manager, I can give you the definitive answer of no. It’s not worth it.

      This isn’t really a management game. It’s not a game at all. It’s a “simulation”, and it’s a simulation which gives you as little feedback about what effects your decisions are having on the game as possible. Unless you have some sort of freakish ability to understand footballing tactics, your ability to make your team win games is pretty much a case of plugging in tactics which other people promise work, and when they fail you end up stabbing at controls meaningless trying to get things to work in your favour without having any idea whether what you’re doing is having the desired effect or not.

      This is a simulation for die-hard football fans. It’s not a football game. I long for a properly designed football game, but Football Manager’s monopoly of the genre makes it unlikely that will ever happen again.

    • Donners says:

      I have watched maybe half a dozen full foot-to-ball games in my life, and even then out of only a misplaced sense of national pride. I could not care less about the real-life fortunes of any club and wouldn’t recognise a star player if I bumped into them in the street.

      Despite that, I have played this series for thousands of hours. The core game is getting increasingly cluttered – for me the high point was 03/04 – but there’s Classic mode for those of us who prefer getting back to basics.

      Once you pick up the basic terminology, it comes quite easily. A good sports management game transcends interest in that sport. I’ve played plenty of Out of the Park with zero interest in the sport.

      Nothing amused me more than coming across people who tirelessly debate the fine points of tactics, particularly in previous versions – I’ve achieved plenty of success in the game without going near the fiddly bits. Savvy signings are what it’s all about.

      • Pockets says:

        03/04 was good. There were loads of things like not having a speed slider for 2d and the holes in the match engine that got annoying for me, though.

        I liked the early FMs best personally; the extra interaction in them isn’t too awkward so it doesn’t slow things down much and there’s a lot of improvements in things like scouting and the match engine. Also, I liked that interface best. 07 is definitely my favourite.

    • orionite says:

      If I may shamelessly promote this kickstarter that I’m backing, in the hopes to bump it to funding? You manage a band of adventurers, very much like a team of athletes. Just in case you still want to manage … something! :)

      Epic Manager: link to kickstarter.com

  2. Hex says:

    So…do you actually play football matches in this game? Or do you just manage your roster and stuff…and then watch matches auto-play in front of you occasionally?

    • MartinWisse says:

      The latter: you are the manager, so the only influence you have is through changes, team talks and the instructions you give during the match.

    • Zankman says:

      You manage and make decisions, about your squads and business, and then watch it play out – although you can still influence the game mid-match (I think?). You can watch the game in the 3D engine, in a simple top-down 2D engine or just like with text.

      • Hex says:

        That sounds kind of neat. If they made this game in pretty much any context that wasn’t sports-related. I would totally play it.

        Sounds like a great framework for the ludus management sim I’ve always wanted.

        • Stardog says:

          It would be interesting if you were building some RPG battle team instead of a football team. Then the “matches” would be battles. You’d be able to buy better weapons/fighters/etc.

        • wwwhhattt says:

          It sounds similar to Gratuitous Space Battles, although I don’t think GSB has any of the roleplaying stuff.

          • Hex says:

            GSB seems to require a lot of arcane knowledge to get anywhere. I picked it up expecting it to be a light-hearted asplode-a-thon, but it turns out you’re supposed to fail miserably, then pour through mountains of after-action reports in an attempt to figure out which of the bits you used were doing something constructive amidst all the bits that were failing.

            Way too much like homework for me.

  3. protorp says:

    But there are still tales of tiny triumphs, of giant killing and last minute survival, and of windswept terraces on a winter’s evening.

    Maybe in the next version they’ll add the option of jumpers for goalposts…

  4. Stardog says:

    I can’t get into the last few versions. I don’t like the movement away from sliders. You have to sit and read through paragraphs of info to see what they mean by it. Why not just give me a slider so I can decide? You used to be able to switch to sliders, but I’ve deleted the demo already so I can’t check.

    It’s a lot more rigid than it used to be.

    • JamesTheNumberless says:

      At first I wasn’t sure. I didn’t like the idea what when I tell my players to “be more expressive” or “get round the back” or whatever I’m not sure exactly what that means… Will my wingers stop crossing? Will my defenders take more risks? etc. Then I compared it with the old system of sliders and dragging arrows from players and realized that the level of opacity is exactly the same, I had no idea then either!

  5. Haphaz77 says:

    Wait – that’s player’s attributes: ‘inability to leap off the ground’.

    What?! Has he not got knees or something?

    • Premium User Badge

      Harlander says:

      The Francomb is a mythical beast, human above the waist, giant slug below.

      On the plus side, he’s very interested in joining the club on loan.

  6. wondermoth says:

    A lifelong foot-to-ball and CM/FM nerd writes…

    I hate it. In fact, I hate it so much that I genuinely prefer Championship Manager 2010, which was admittedly far too easy, but otherwise was infinitely more entertaining than this bloated, aimless mess. The curse of modern FM is that as far as I can tell, the only way tactics can influence results is through variety; if you play the same tactic repeatedly, you’ll get warned (by “journalists”) that you’re becoming predictable, and then you’ll start losing. Have two tactics and you’re set to concentrate on what the game really cares about, which is your ability to keep your squad’s morale up through endless tedious interactions. Do this well, and the squad will exceed their skill level. Do it badly and they will fail. Either way, the effect quickly snowballs, determining your season.

    And the worst part? There’s so much potential here; the depth of SI’s scouting is extraordinary, and there is a framework here for a truly great football management sim, which rewards strategic and tactical innovation. Instead, we’ve got a personal relationship management sim.

    • cederic says:

      I think you have a good point. I preferred it back when it was all numbers, formations, tactics, stats.

      Now it’s “say the right thing” and frankly if I had social skills I wouldn’t be playing computer games so much.

      As a football management sim it’s probably still very light on the man-management side of things, but a large part of managing any team is the personal relationships and morale. I just can’t be arsed, I have enough of that shit to deal with at work, I want my gaming to be “you go up the wing and cross, you run into the middle and head the ball into the net” and no nonsense.

  7. Scrote says:

    Does this have that “classic mode” thing which sounded really great because… err, I can’t remember exactly why but it seemed to strip away some of the tedium, maybe? Anyone know what I’m rambling about?

    • Han says:

      Yes it does.

    • Arathorn says:

      I wonder how many iterations it will take until they’ve added so much to the classic mode that they’ll have to introduce a classic classic mode.
      I liked the idea of the classic mode at first… then when I played it I realized that I’d become addicted to the control the regular game gives me. Why play the game if there are so few ways to influence the outcome? I could do without the huge focus on player morale though. I want to be a football manager, not an amateur psychologist.

      • Themadcow says:

        I didn’t play 2014’s Classic Mode, but 2013’s one was decent… just not as good as CM01/02.

        If they really want to give us a great Classic Mode, then just give us CM01/02 with up to date graphics (no 3D match engine though – text only thanks) and interface. Despite claims that you could play tClassic Mode in an evening, I generally find that it took 2-3 evenings whereas you can definitely do CM01/02 in an evening and have a lot more fun with transfers.

      • Smoky_the_Bear says:

        That’s the biggest issue I have about the newer iterations. In their desire to add things to the game they’ve added too much of this player and press interaction stuff into the game. It’s not interesting to me and some player throwing a wobbly because I clicked the wrong dialogue option which can cause said player to sulk for the rest of the season just isn’t a good gameplay mechanic to me.

  8. Dozer says:

    Does the game let you recruit unrepentant convicted rapists who’ve served their time?

    • Rinox says:

      Served their time? Surely you don’t think that’s what actually happens to rock star millionaire football players? :-)

      Would be a lot more realistic if you could assist them in their media handling, and how to buy off the victim.

  9. ZakG says:

    Football Manager is one of those few games that has always had a space on my hard drive, and plenty of gaming use, since it’s Championship Manager days, SI are just that good at doing what they do.

    However over recent years i have not been ‘feeling it’. I skipped 2009/10 i think and have since been happily stuck on 2011. I use some mods and my own updates to keep the game fresh. In truth for the pure football goodness i could have stuck with FM 2008, but the 3D match engine did eventually draw me in, and in 2011 it looks good, seems reasonable, results make sense (mostly) and i don’t think it got better than in that version, not from what friends and reviews have told me.

    Also i really hate the whole move to make the interface look more erm…. like facebook or some other trendy social app. That killed off any interest i had in buying new versions of the game for me.

    So while CM(when it was run by SI)/FM will remain one of my favourite games of all time, they lost me as a customer a few years/iterations back, and i see no sign that they will get me back again. I do off course keep an eye on the reviews and (more importantly) actual player word of mouth, but for my tastes they have just pushed it too far from where it came from in it’s golden CM and early FM days.

  10. Premium User Badge

    Zamn10210 says:

    “…shots from extremely tight angles seem to hit the target more often than is probable. Players know this as well, able to calculate the uncanny odds and preferring to take a pop rather than cutting the ball back to a chum.”

    Alas, it was ever thus

  11. Freud says:

    I always focus on building teams around generated young players, so I don’t particularly care about getting the newest data. As long as the mechanics for generating new players is solid, I’m happy.

    • Smoky_the_Bear says:

      Yeah I always prefer the game once generated players start entering the game. Start enough new games and you learn the best players to buy for each price range. The randomness added by the generated players gives the game an extra element that makes it more fun for me.