Football Manager Live Hands-On

Sports Interactive takes its popular sports simulation online, in a new massively multiplayer online game that gives players the power to create their own teams and leagues.

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In the past few weeks, there have been mutterings that London-based developer Sports Interactive, most famous for its Football Manager series of games, was up to something new. We can now unveil exactly what that project is and give you some idea of how it will play.

You have an initial wage budget of £100,000--spend it wisely!
You have an initial wage budget of £100,000--spend it wisely!

Basically, it's a football management MMOG. Based on SI's highly successful Football Manager franchise, it adds in elements of the popular UK casual game Fantasy Football and drops touches of instant messaging and online-auction action on top.

The result is Football Manager Live, a game which pits you against up to 1,000 other football managers, all vying for the best players and league points, as well as the cash and fame that come with them.

But you're not in charge of any existing team, such as Manchester United or Real Madrid. Instead, once you've input your own profile details, you're asked select to your own team. You can choose the full name and nickname, along with the size and type of your home pitch. You can also choose the club's home and away kits, as well as the names of the various squads that you may, over time, fill with players.

The game contains vast numbers of real-life players, taken from Football Manager's database, and you begin with a £100,000 wage budget from which to choose your squad. How you do this is up to you, as long as you don't exceed that initial figure. Some may opt for a handful of reasonable players and make up the numbers with youth players, while others might go for a single megastar and lots of nobodies.

Much of the game is based around the Football Manager game engine, so there are plenty of stats to work through.
Much of the game is based around the Football Manager game engine, so there are plenty of stats to work through.

When the game is launched, it's planned that each gameworld (or server) will contain up to 1,000 managers, and because there are no duplicate football players allowed, you'll have to choose players that no one else has already snagged. Although this sounds tough on those joining up later, there are various restrictions on player contracts that should level the playing field a little.

For example, only a few players over the age of 19 can be signed for more than a month at a time, and players who aren't signed become available via an auction in which anyone can bid. It's also possible to offer transfer fees for other players already under contract, as well as put players up for sale with a starting price and instant buy fee.

Once you've selected your team, either by carefully filing through the game's database, choosing autoselect, or a mixture of the two, you'll want to assign player positions and decide on tactics. All of the main options from the offline edition of Football Manager are there, from formations to general team mentality, so there's plenty to tweak from one match to the next.

The other major influence in the game--your finances--is governed by your squad's wages, which are deducted at the end of every day. At the same time, you're given a basic amount of cash every day to get by on and more money can be made in a variety of ways. You'll get bonuses for doing well in the global rankings, winning competitions, or even betting on the results of in-game matches. The key to surviving is your ability to always pay the wages; thus, success in the long term won't necessarily come by building up a squad of superstars.

Playing matches is, of course, where all of your tactical adjustments or wheeling and dealing culminate. You can challenge anyone who is online to a friendly match, or you can join or create player-generated competitions. These can take any form, including a one-off match, a full league, or a cup tournament containing lots of teams. The person setting up a competition decides how the event's rounds are arranged, as well as other details, such as entrance fees and prize money. You can chat with other users via a lobby system built into the game. It's also clear which tournaments are public or private and which have space for new teams to join.

Once the match is underway, you can watch the highlights in Football Manager's traditional top-down view at a variety of speeds. Changes to the game speed need to be agreed upon by both players, and the chat panel on one side of the main screen allows in-game banter between the managers. It's possible to view any of the game's screens while the match is underway. Tactical substitutions and player injuries are also modelled as usual.

Football Manager Online isn't slated for release until around March 2008, so it's still in its very early days at this point. The game should enter its beta phase at some point in May 2007, and we'll have more information on the game as it becomes available.

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