Games the Console Generation Missed: Football Manager 2006
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A look back on the game that split more marriages than collar-lipstick...
Before I begin, I must confess that I had intended to give you a look at one of the pc’s greatest gaming niches, Massively Multiplayer Online (MMO) games. However, whilst putting in an inordinate amount of time and energy playing EVE Online, I was drawn like a moth to a very alluring flame in the shape of Football Manager 2006 when I discovered it late one night (technically “early one morning”). Not that this is intended as a slight on the highly addictive MMORPG, but the memories of countless days and months spent playing came flooding back, demanding that I change the topic.
Football manager simulators are essentially unique to the computer industry as sales of any console variation have sold as well as Roaul Moat’s cover version of “The Hills are Alive” (that CD also included covers of “Me Against the World” and “I Fought the Law”). As such, many of the world’s gamers have missed out on a truly entertaining, enthralling and often completely devastating experience.
"Despite the lukewarm reception Championship Manager received, a very small proportion of the world had witnessed the start of something special"
Prior to looking at Football Manager 2006 in all its glory, we must first look back, way back, back to where it all began in 1992. 1992 saw Mike Tyson convicted of rape, the L.A. riots, Windows 3.1, the official formation of the F.A. Premier League and the release of a little known game called Championship Manager. Written in basic code on an arcane computer in a cramped bedroom, Paul and Oliver Collyer couldn’t have stuck closer to the stereotypical image of a self-made computer programming team even if they’d tried. Despite the lukewarm reception Championship Manager received, a very small proportion of the world had witnessed the start of something special.
The pair went on to form Sports Interactive in order to develop their initial idea and released a further ten Championship Manager titles over twelve years. Indeed, the release of Championship Manager 4 in March 2003 saw the series become, at that time, the fastest-selling PC game ever on its first day of release. At this point the series was an international success and with the inclusion of a top-down view of the match engine for the first time, Sports Interactive had made a significant shift away from their original “imagination” philosophy. It was no longer a simple succession of scripted phrases describing the action, a process dependant on the player’s ‘mind’s eye’, now the goals were played out in front of you (although the perspective did make it feel like you were in a blimp hovering above).
However, on the 12th of February 2004, Sports Interactive split from their publisher Eidos Interactive, with whom they had been partners with since 1995, in a bid to gain greater development freedom. This was a pivotal moment for Sports Interactive and the football manager simulation genre as a whole. Although they were unable to hold onto the name Championship Manager, Sports Interactive managed to retain the rights to the source code. With a new name, a new publisher and a new interface, Sports Interactive released Football Manager 2005 on the 4th of November 2004, a full five months before Eidos were able to release the next Championship Manager title. These five months gave Football Manager 2005 the opportunity to establish itself at the forefront of the market, a position they have held ever since.
"This title holds the acrimonious title of being cited in more divorce cases than any other game ever made"
So we arrive once more to our beginning, to the version widely considered as addictive as methamphetamine, Football Manager 2006. This title holds the acrimonious title of being cited in more divorce cases than any other game ever made. This is not me lying or embellishing certain details, this is a FACT. Write it down for use in conversations later, it’ll be useful, trust me.
At the time of its release Football Manager 2006 had amassed an unequalled depth, with a dizzying array of spreadsheet like statistics applied to every player in the game, right from the top tier to the bottom rung. More importantly though, this was the first iteration to provide free squad updates that could be downloaded after the summer and winter transfer windows had been shut, a concept only recently integrated into the more console friendly FIFA series.
Football Manager 2006 was a brilliant –perhaps perfect– game, but what was it that made it so addictive? I’ve never personally been able to my finger on the exact cause as there isn’t any instant satisfaction or reward, in fact there’s very little reward at all even if you’re half decent at the game. At least with something like Left4Dead you’re honing your apocalypse survival skills, but the talents picked up in playing Football Manager 2006 can hardly be applied to real life football management, with Ebbsfleet United living proof of this fact.
Yet it shouldn’t be dismissed as a game solely in the domain of football fanatics, students and the unemployed. Although there are many moments of great joy within the game, they are frequently outweighed by crushing disappointment as you see your career ebb and flow. This is not a criticism of game, but is in fact testament to the game's realism. In Football Manager 2006 the player was put at the heart of everything and if success is achieved, the reward is to believe that they “did what no one else could’ve done”. In the end, this is what every game strives to achieve, but there are few that will realise it.
Since Football Manager 2006, Sports Interactive began to completely dominate the market, to the extent that their once great rival Championship Manager has recently announced that they won’t be releasing a new title for the 2010/2011 season as they look to “re-focus our vision for the franchise and redefine our business model”. In other words, they’re admitting that they simply can’t cope anymore.
In truth, it’s amazing they managed to compete for so long. In truth, it’s amazing that I managed to stop playing for long enough to write this article. My current “addictiveness level” stands at “lacks match practice” and I’ll be damned if I leave it at that for long. With a coffee, a notepad and a pen at the ready, I’m going back until it reminds me that I need to eat as it gives me “the strength to keep on playing”.
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