Should You Update To Football Manager 2016?

Football Manager 2016 [official site] is out this Friday, but before we publish our review, Adam and Graham decided to gather in the RPS dugout to discuss this year’s tactics, transfers and press room meltdowns.

Graham: I think I’d be pretty disappointed if I spent £35/$50 on Football Manager 2016.

Adam: It’s definitely one of those years that plays into the argument against annual releases. Last year too. From a distance, it looks like the last significant addition was the new Classic mode, which is a more streamlined approach that lets managers play through a season without dedicating half of their waking hours to press conferences and transfer negotiations.

But 2014 was a strong year as well. It consolidated a lot of the tactical instructions and emphasised that management was about communicating with players – by providing them with roles and instructions – rather than ticking boxes on spreadsheets. It felt like a much more human game than its predecessors.

I’m going to stick up for 2016 briefly, on a couple of counts, but it’s major back-of-the-box/bullet-points-on-the-Steam-page features really aren’t very exciting at all. And while it’s only fair to say we’ve been playing with a beta, the match engine seems much more erratic to me.

Graham: I should state the bounds of my criticism, first off. Football Manager games are always good or at least good-ish. The advantage of the incremental updates is that they are never starting from scratch, never leaping to a new engine, never suddenly adding entire new continents. It’s a process of slow expansion and tweaking, and there is therefore a core there that remains engaging. But as you note, the back-of-the-box features that are there this year aren’t very exciting for the second year in a row, whereas many of the criticisms of systems introduced over the past three or four years remain.

I agree with you about 2014 being a good year, despite adding nothing as major as Classic (now Touch) mode. I thought 2015 was a disappointment, but its match engine seemed stable, moderately improved, and the addition of RPG-style skill points for your managers seemed to be throwing a cap over the wall as a signal for where the series was going to go. I thought 2016 would make all that better, but a limp character creator for choosing between tracksuit and puffy coats, and the ability to have children, are not what I was hoping for. The stats still seem opaque to me in terms of how they affect your ability to accomplish things in game, for example. Press conferences and player dealings still seem limited in terms of their reflection of the current game state and your ability to express yourself through them. If 2014 made the game feel more human, the RPG stuff has had the opposite effect for me.

Adam: Agreed. The human element came from an overhaul of the tactics, which went from sliders to more explicit instructions. You could imagine how telling somebody to act in a certain role and to press higher up the pitch might translate into a set of instructions from one human being to another, whereas the sliders made it feel very much as if you were controlling an artificial simulation.

With the press conferences, team talks and manager stats, there’s been so little progress. That’s more understandable with the latter, which is new as of 2015, but the media side has been in place for years now. I’ve always defended its presence in the series because the media plays such a huge role in real life football, and provides it with the ongoing circus that so many fans seem to be more interested in than the actual on-pitch action. You couldn’t make up Mourinho’s current season, and if Football Manager simulated it, you’d claim it was broken or buggy beyond belief.

And if Sports Interactive want to flesh out the media side of things, I reckon they’d do well to embrace some explicit RPG mechanics. Not a morality scale or anything quite like that (although it would be amusing) but a more obvious relationship between your behaviour and the consequences. If I am abrasive in a press conference, have a message (maybe from an assistant, for credibility’s sake, or through the media itself) warn me that I risk becoming known as a Volatile manager. Have that characteristic attach itself to me if I don’t back down, and have clear consequences when I challenge referees – maybe it intimidates players and they’re less likely to complain, but it makes sporting associations quicker to punish me and the media more likely to try and get a rise out of me.

If I bring through three or four youth players in a season and they all get a fair amount of game time, maybe that should be a mark on my character as well. These are all things that I assume the game is reacting to in some way but with the press conferences and team talks being such a routine of question and response, with no real thought put in and deviation from the norm often punished to an absurd degree, I’d rather they were made more explicitly ‘gamey’ rather than left vague and dull.

Graham: Football Manager always favours being opaque than clear in terms of cause and effect. I can understand why in most instances. It’s not a game that’s strictly concerned with offering a power fantasy; though you can still take minnows and turn them into world-beaters, it more often creates the sense that you are merely an individual within a larger crew, trying to steer the ship by giving orders which are often incompetently carried out, and subject to the storms raging outside your team and are entirely outside your control. That works, mostly, when you’re talking about picking players and defining tactics and the meatier parts of football.

But yeah, as you say, press conferences need to be much clearer as to the nature of their cause and effect. To give an example: I was fired as manager of Leeds United after 10 days, despite winning the two matches I played, because of some seemingly mild comments I made during press conferences.

Now, maybe in real life you’d be fired for being consistently volatile, but I don’t know know what I said that was so bad. That’s unrealistic for one, because in real life I’d find out that I’d said something wrong by the headlines and internet outrage that followed. But there’s none of that in Football Manager, and the team’s owner didn’t tell me when he spoke to me to fire me, and there was never any dialogue option in subsequent press dealings that allowed me to address it in anything like explicit terms.

I like that there is a system of ‘promises’, because that is a gamey attempt to make these things matter and to make them explicit. But cripes. In real life there might have been controversy about what I said, but there’d also be controversy about a winning manager being turfed out in such little time. Again, none of that in the game. It doesn’t even pass the, “this is for realism” defence. It’s just bad design and bad in the same ways as last year.

Adam: I just want to note that it’s hilarious to me that you were fired from Leeds after winning the only two matches you played. It may be bad design (it IS bad design), but it made me chuckle. A combination of it being Leeds and it being you, I think, brought a smile to my face.
I don’t disagree with anything you’ve said. I think, on the whole, the opacity of your influence on the simulation is a strength when it comes to tactics and player performance, but a different approach is needed to make your personal behaviour interesting, fun or realistic. There’s not a chance in hell that Wenger doesn’t know he’s ridiculed for certain things and admired for others, and he knows that Arsenal fans are going to want him ‘out’ before they want him ‘in’ again at least fifteen times over a season. The ‘Promises’ – which let you lay out to your chairman what you will and won’t do short- and long-term – are a good touch. More of that would be a fine thing.

To an extent, a great deal of what I want is already there, in the board and fan confidence sections, which give an indication of what is pleasing and upsetting fans and board alike, but so much is still unpredictable or – worse – lacking in character or communication.

On a positive note, I think there has been a big improvement this year. I’m going to have to spend a while with the release version to confirm but I’m fairly sure the AI has been improved significantly. Playing (and spectating) a bunch of games over the last week and a half, I’ve seen more variations in tactics, both from different managers and sides, and those same managers and sides in different competitions and scenarios. Van Gaal’s United struggle to break defenses down and play a possession game – I saw him sacked in the game’s second season and replaced by Brendan Rogers of all people. The club finished lower in the league than they had under Van Gaal but they scored more goals and were more exciting to watch.

I’ve played against teams and seen tactics shift dramatically after the first goal in a way that hasn’t always been evident. It’s always been the case that AI managers make big changes right after a red card – and that makes sense – but now they seem to react to other changes in the status quo much more readily.

Again, I’ll need to play for a good while longer to judge transfer market AI, but that seems improved as well. I think there’s a more sensible approach to long-term team-building, with clubs looking to replace like-for-like sooner rather than later. There’s still an irritating tendency to run star players into the ground though, barely rotating the squad as and when needed. Although that might be my limited experience of (in-game) Premier League idiocy.

Graham: I’ve noticed some improvements, although yeah, it’s hard to make general statements about the match engine till we’ve put more time in. But even if it is better, is that and the other features enough to justify a whole new game, for you?

For me, it’s not. The new things are half-formed or of little interest, the improvements don’t improve enough, and there’s lots that’s still a problem. Now that I have it, I reckon I will play Football Manager 2016 for the year and enjoy it. But I’d have been just as happy saving my money and sticking with Football Manager 2015 with a database patch to bring transfers in line with the new season.

Adam: Yeah, I’m with you. I’ve chronicled the death of my Football Manager 2015 world and I feel a bit like I moved out of my old apartment into one that’s almost identical, except without the years of happy memories. There are things I do like – that potentially improved AI and the hugely intricate Prozone stats that allow analysis of every kick of every ball, and every run by every player. And the interface handles news and headlines better than ever before, filtering important information into several areas so that it’s bound to catch your eye if you’re scanning around.

But none of that is quite enough. I was really excited before I got my hands on the game – I always am – and I can’t pretend that tweaks to news delivery systems, and piles of stats that I’ll barely need to dig into are what I was hoping to be talking about a couple of days before release, having been playing the beta for a week and a half already.

Even things like the Create a Club mode, which is a fine thing to have right there on the menu, are recreating things that the included Editor could do. And the interface for that mode isn’t slick or efficient enough to make it entirely approachable anyhow.

Like you, I’m in there now and I’ll stay. I have two save files and I’ll probably keep one of them and go forward with it for the rest of the year. Forward to wherever it takes me. But I’m playing because I enjoy the series in the same way that I ever have, not because I’m excited about anything shiny and new.

Football Manager 2016 is out Friday 13th November for Windows, Mac and Linux.

61 Comments

  1. padger says:

    The Football Manager series is getting stale with this many iterations. Instead, it needs to be set in the near-future of football, possibly when Russian football has invaded Europe, where clubs use drones and robot-battlesuits to play underground guerrilla foot-to-ball against the invaders. Also RPG elements.

    • HopeHubris says:

      You might be looking for Inazuma Eleven

    • Nereus says:

      Throw in some procedurally generated dungeons and you’ve got yourself a video game mister.

  2. Psychomorph says:

    Should Rename To Soccer Manager 2016.

    • 0positivo says:

      pffft, you sillies should rename your sport to Handegg instead :p

      • Capt. Bumchum McMerryweather says:

        Welcome to the American Handegg Super Bowl 2016! We’ll be right back after these messages, where we’ll then discuss the importance of these ads over the actual sport itself, before going to yet another break!! Woo capitalism!

    • Premium User Badge

      The Borderer says:

      America, go and get your own name for your sport, we got football first.

      Seriously though, I wonder how much of the British objection to the word ‘soccer’ was initially because it is an upper class name for what became a working class sport?

      • Shake Appeal says:

        These squabbles are so silly. The earliest “American” variant of football was played pretty much simultaneously (~1869) with the creation of the Football Association and the codification of the “Laws of the Game” back in London (1863). And people don’t go around calling “rugby” football “handegg,” presumably because it wasn’t invented by those blasted “Yanks.”

        Both sides need to stop being jingoistic about this.

        • rabbit says:

          organised sports are shit and pro football players are wankers

  3. Eddy9000 says:

    I’m sorry but a whole article on football Manager with no sarcastic asides about how disinterested you are in football games, or snide references to ‘foot-to-ball’? I’ve been reading RPS since 1740 but it’s been going downhill for years now. Can anyone recommend me another PC game website where they treat football games with nothing but sarcastic contempt? I’m done here.

    • 0positivo says:

      I say, this site has just not been the same ever since that article on that silly new tecnology. What did they call it? Radeeo?

    • Shaftburn says:

      Football manager is the biggest sports sim out there, and is constantly in the top ten played games on steam. Infact, Fm 13, 14 and 15 are all on the top 100 games being played right now. So tell my why they shouldn’t write articles about it?

    • Bugamn says:

      Humbug, you are just pretending to be a faithful reader, but your statements betray your lies. Everyone knows that the glorious RockPaperShotgun started in 1873, after the Great Pong Revolution had removed the pingeviches from power. With your date of 1740 you must be thinking of TicTacPow, that hateful rag that persists in disseminating low quality gaming as if it were avant garde.

  4. Tenner says:

    I was looking for some info on ’15 on the official forums recently and saw a post about AI squad building. The OP asked if ’16 would fix the issue of AI teams being pretty useless in the transfer market in long saves, and a dev or an admin replied and said they wouldn’t because “that’s not the kind of feature that we can put in the new features list and get people excited”.

    I thought maybe that’s true, but surely you know your audience are stat obsessed football nerds?

    As much as making a Sims 1 version of myself to stand on the touchline or making Tenner Utd sounds (vaguely) exciting, I think I would be happier if they just fixed and fleshed out some of what is already there.

    • drewski says:

      I don’t think the audience actually is football obsessed stat nerds, although obviously they play it too. The FM series is as mainstream as gaming gets in the UK – I suspect the vast majority of players are just massive football fans who want to manage their club and don’t even really notice all the little issues that statheads will pick up.

      It’s closer to FIFA than, say, Crusader Kings. It’s just aimed at people who wish they were running their favourite club instead of playing for it.

  5. TillEulenspiegel says:

    I watched a video of someone doing the Create-A-Club thing, and it’s pretty funny how it’s literally just the editor interface with some very minor tweaks.

    It’s actually worse than what you can do in the editor, because it forces you to replace an existing club completely. With the editor, I can make a new club from scratch in the lowest available division, and shove another club gently into the nebulous lower tiers, so at least there’s the hope that they may win promotion in a future season.

  6. racccoon says:

    it seems more updated but I do prefer to play these sort of management games at their series one.

  7. The Velour Fog says:

    The new feature that most attracted my attention was the idea of dynamic rivalries. I generally take on a single team for multiple seasons and it would be good for the game to recognise that rivalries evolve and change. For example playing as Everton I had some epic tussles with Southampton over a 15 year period, facing off in a Champion’s League final, FA Cup final, some 4-3 thrillers. It would have been nice for the game to acknowledge this in some way. Anything that enhances the idea of a living world would be welcome, eg commentary being more topical, being able to track head-to-head results through multiple seasons in more detail, better breakdown of player stats through filters (goals scored against specific opposition for example).

    • Jac says:

      From your opening line I’m confused as to whether dynamic rivalries is now actually a feature or just one that you’d like to see. I hope it’s the former as I’ve wanted that for ages as well for the reasons you state.

      Also question for RPS: What about the match engine seems more erratic to you? Wasn’t much elaborated on and in my mind might not be such a bad thing as football is erratic by nature, but when translated to games doesn’t quite work and appears “broken”.

      • The Velour Fog says:

        It has been an announced feature yes

        • Jac says:

          Such a small thing but that’s awesome. My wallet is not going to stay closed for long.

    • Coming Second says:

      Similarly some rivalries fading over time would have been nice, too. My multiple Champions League-winning Sheffield Wednesday side hardly ever play Huddersfield anymore, but if we happen to get them in the cup it’s the one that the fans will have me out on my ear for losing, apparently.

    • beardybot says:

      It’s funny, I actually purchased the in-game editor for 2015 solely so I could make rivalries ‘dynamic’. My Derby-Dortmund rivalry became one of the hottest prospects in football, and being able to make the game recognise that was great.

      That this is now a part of the game is good, but it’s hard to imagine that it is as full-featured as my own tweaks, just as create-a-sim, create-a-club and press conferences have constantly fallen flat.

  8. anHorse says:

    They’ve yet to make a FM game where I can actually manage to consistently sell players who aren’t the next greatest thing ever

    Which is a shame

  9. Premium User Badge

    Grizzly says:

    Would this chapter be a good place to start if one has never played a FM game before?

    Or should my internal simracing enthusiast buy Qvadriga?

    • Pantalaimon says:

      If you have a passion for football and/or RPG/management games, and paying the full asking price for this years version doesn’t bother you, then it’s hard not to recommend picking up the latest version. FM is just one of the best games on the planet and with the more streamlined modes it doesn’t even take much of a time investment for new players to have fun and get into it. There’s a small caveat that FM games often a little ‘quirky’ for a month or so after release, but as a new player you probably won’t notice these things.

      However, if you’re not too bothered by starting the game with the world being a few years out of date, and you’d like to save some money, I’d probably just recommend starting with FM14 to see if you like the game. They’re not so dissimilar that you’d be playing a different game, but it benefits from having masses of updates and being the best recent version (as well as having what seems like a vastly more intuitive interface).

      As an FM obsessive I didn’t really have a lot of fun with Qvadriga, to be honest. It’s not a bad game but it’s quite clunky and obviously doesn’t have the depth that FM offers. However, if football is not a particular interest to you, and roman history is, perhaps it would be a good game to try.

      • Guvornator says:

        I actually got into football through FM (well, Championship Manager 96/97 as it was then) so you don’t have to have an interest in it to enjoy it. The main problem I have with recent versions is it’s stuck in an uncanny valley – as the tech has grown and less has been left to your imagination, it somehow feel less realistic, not more.

      • Lacessit says:

        As someone who h

      • Lacessit says:

        As someone who hasn’t played a FM in 4 years and HAS played Qvadriga a few months ago: If you like football, buy FM. You’re in for a treat. Qvadriga is fun, FM is engrossing.

        • Lacessit says:

          Strange non edittable comment system, never change!

          • Captain Narol says:

            As a FM/CKII addict who had a lot of fun with Qvadriga, I’d say buy FM immediately if you are a football fan, otherwise buy Qvadriga…

            Btw, does anyone know a turn-based PC game about Formula One that plays a little like Qvadriga, that’s something I’d be very interested to give a try ?

          • Gothnak says:

            I’d suggest getting the Car Wars board game as that is what Quadriga reminded me mostly of… The Dueltrack add-on makes it all about race tracks. Why someone hasn’t made a PC version of it recently, i don’t know.

          • Captain Narol says:

            Strange, I can’t reply to Gothnak directly…

            There is a great boardgame named Formula D that is a good example of turn-based racing done well. In fact I’m quite surprised there isn’t any official videogame adaptation of it and I wouldn’t be surprised if it had been a source of inspiration for Qvadriga…

          • Gothnak says:

            I think Formula De/D is a lot more simplified imo, and it has dice in it for movement, so it is inherently rubbish.

  10. Pantalaimon says:

    I’ve come to peace with the SI development cycle being a year or two of incremental updates before pushing out more feature packed releases – although I agree that this year is definitely more of a housekeeping release, and probably not essential for anyone who owns a recent version of the game.

    That said, a lot of the minor updates this year – and there ARE a lot of them – might just add up to a significant improvement (small things like being able to see player condition bars in the 3D view actually add up to significantly improved gameplay). I’m not a fan of the way they’ve mangled some of the interfaces (eg tactics screen) and described them as actual feature additions (they’ve mostly just shuffled things around and made the UI more obtuse), but doing-over the UI for its own sake seems to be a perennial obsession of theirs – ‘completely reworked UI’ will be on the box for FM2017, at least.

    • The Velour Fog says:

      the squad selection screen is the one thing I wish they hadn’t changed. Infinitely preferred 2014 version to 2015 version which is much too fiddly.

  11. El_MUERkO says:

    For a long time now I’ve thought Football Manager would make more sense as a subscription service. SI could do away with the yearly releases and patch monthly or bimonthly, I’d happily pay 4 squid a month for a constantly updating and improving FM.

    • Smoky_the_Bear says:

      I think the issue there, is that, if there are a lot of players that play FM like I do, I’m not playing it all the time. I binge on it for a couple of months, then stop. Subscription service might not work for them, they would definitely see a massive drop-off during the summer when there is no football on, I’m guessing a lot of people play much less then.

      • Smoky_the_Bear says:

        Also, with yearly sports games, there is certainly a premium paid by people simply for updating players, squads etc etc. That would just have to be weaved into the subscription if they went that route and couldn’t charge for that premium at all.

        Not saying it doesn’t suck that updating rosters and making a few gameplay changes costs £35 each year, but from a business point of view, they would probably lose that going the sub route.

        Then you have the fact that lots of people are just anti-subscription model too, how many customers would they lose from that. Even £5 a month works out at £60 a year as opposed to £35 and that’s very low for a sub price which is around the £10 mark for sub-MMOs.

  12. Gothnak says:

    There is one massive problem with FM 2015 Classic Mode and that is that morale is overly important and yet you cannot choose to do a team talk to deal with it when you want to.

    I have gone on unbeaten runs of 10-15 games, only to lose 1 match, morale drop and then the same team in the same league suddenly goes on a 15 match non-win streak until the game decides we have had a bad run and i’m allowed to do a team talk, drag the morale up and start winning again.

    Apart from that, i’m having a lot of fun in FM15, i’ve got Maidenhead Utd up from Conference North to currently fighting with Portsmouth at the top of League 2.

    For any noobs reading, the thing that took me the longest to work out how good a Player is when scouting. They have 3 different Star Ratings, one is the Scout’s Opinion, one is Scout’ Opinion of their Potential and one (The only one you need in the short term) is actual current skill level. The amount of time i would buy a 5* player and he’d immediately drop to half a star when he joined my team :(. As soon as i sorted that, the game got a lot easier!

    • Gothnak says:

      Oh in short, does FM16 fix the stupid morale issue for Classic?

    • Smoky_the_Bear says:

      I found morale to be overly impactful for a while tbh. Also it’s like a disease, a couple of losses snowballs into suddenly the whole team feels like crap and suddenly an entire team of £100,000 a week players can’t hit a barn door.

  13. number2301 says:

    I do quite enjoy the fact that Leeds are as rash in game as in real life!

    As has become a saying around here, remember, it’s only 3 Leeds managers until Christmas!

  14. Smoky_the_Bear says:

    Not owned a Footie Manager since ’12. Gonna pick this up I think, should be enough new stuff and from my past experience, usually when they don’t add much, it’s a smoother and better game because they’ve been refining things rather than working on new features.

    For someone who bought ’14 or ’15 though I can totally understand the point of “this doesn’t add enough new stuff to justify £35”. Which is generally why I only buy it every few years.

    Also when I buy a new one I have a tendency to overdo it just a *little* bit and don’t really feel like playing it for a while. I think it may be that time again.

  15. JRHaggs says:

    OK. What if I have ’14 but skipped ’15? I usually update every other year. Should I wait until next next year? Seems like no, but… but… NEW!

    Help!

    • Captain Narol says:

      I’m in the same situation as you and based on this review, I think so far that I will skip FM 16 too, not enough improvements to make it worth updating…

      • JRHaggs says:

        Yeah. OK. I’m with you, I think. Maybe when they introduce secret bears or space hamsters.

        • Captain Narol says:

          Secret Bears are probably already there, but they are secret !

  16. Themadcow says:

    Another review I read suggests that FM2016 ‘Touch’ will come out as a standalone game before Xmas? I’ll probably just wait for that.

  17. xcession says:

    I’m surprised year after year that FM isn’t just made into a web app. Why it needs to be a desktop or even a platform-specific game is beyond me, it’s just a glorified Content Management System.

    • mrvega says:

      True. But this way we can play offline. Plus there’s a fairly decent 3D match simulator in there, too.

  18. orionite says:

    Like everyone morning, I check the New Games section on Steam to find, as advertised, Football Manager 2016. I also found oodles of DLC for $.99-$5. On closer inspection, some of these are what I would call “cheats”.
    Is this what it’s come to now? You can pay $1.59 and hey presto, all players are now interested in joining your club. Similarly, you can pay to remove work permits, or other foreign player restrictions. AYFKM?
    If someone can explain to me how this is not a blatant money grab for a feature that essentially allows you to change a flag in the code, I’d be very interested. I’m normally firmly on the people-gonna-pay-for-what-they-want side, but this strikes me as either insulting or immoral.

    • Cederic says:

      My understanding is that these are all for the Touch mode, which is a cut down simplified version.

      In previous years it included a number of unlockable features, so the DLC list looks like a pay-to-unlock rather than through playing and/or meeting in-game objectives.

      Me, I think they’ve lost their way anyway. Touch mode was an attempt to revisit the more simplistic CM01/02 in the modern engine, but they managed to make Touch unattractive while refusing to fix the things that break the main game.

      If they liked their customers instead of wanted to exploit them they’d make it far easier to effectively skip the parts of the game that people find boring, whether that’s training, press conferences, scouting, whatever. Sure, a lot of that can be assigned to members of staff but then you’re crippled by (e.g.) Brighton being unable to recruit a scout that can tell whether a player has both feet attached.

      And fix the morale system. One loss and that’s it, the whole squad goes suicidal.

      • Shake Appeal says:

        If OOTP Developments made the game, you’d be able to turn the morale system (and any other feature you weren’t wild about) on and off with a simple checkbox.

  19. Shake Appeal says:

    SI need to take a long, hard look at Out of the Park Baseball — what it costs each year, how effortlessly customizable and expansive it is, and how its developers treat their fanbase.

    • cardboardcity says:

      I often think about the relationship between OOTP and FM. Lately it’s been all FM for me, but I could switch to baseball now with my local Kansas City having won the Series.

      The OOTP universe is much more open. You can, for example, create a league that starts in 2125 and write a backstory of baseball re-emerging after the clone wars. Or anything else. Locate and name all your own teams . . . it’s more like one of those old “construction set” war games. Plus you can import your save from the previous edition.

      Yes, if only there were a box to check to turn off some things in FM, especially the annoying repetitive interviews.

      OOTP does have the marked advantage, though, of baseball being and having always been a sport where stats have been kept, so there’s no scouting necessary, and the ecology of baseball is much smaller.