Football Manager Live Updated Hands-On

The beta test for Sports Interactive's soccer-management massively multiplayer online game is well under way, and we report on its progress.

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When Football Manager Live was announced a few months ago, developer Sports Interactive made it clear that the game would enjoy a long beta-testing period so that Sports Interactive could release as close to a finished product as possible next year. Not long ago, that beta test began. Since then, we've been trying to make our way up the rankings in search of wealth, glory, and that elusive notion of consistency.

Over time, it's possible to accumulate wealth by winning competitions, winning in-game bets, or by auctioning off your players. But in general, it's a bit like somebody's disbanded all of the global federations, disposed of all of the teams, and cancelled all the players' contracts. And then it's as if someone was allowed to set up a team and start everything again from scratch.

At the time of writing, our first impressions piece of the game focused on the alpha phase of testing, which means that there were only a very small number of people who were allowed access to the gameworld. The gameworld was also still very much under construction, albeit remarkably stable for a game still nearly a year from release. If you've read that piece, you'll be aware that instead of taking control of an existing real life club as in the annual iterations of SI's very successful Football Manager series, you invent your own team. You set the name, the stadium, and the kit colours; you can even choose the pattern that the ground staff mows into the pitch.

This is because there are no pre-existing teams in the game; just the highly researched database of thousands of real life players from all around the world. Once you've established your team's details, you get to choose players from that database--minus any that have already been nabbed by other managers--up to a wage budget of £100,000 (approx $200,000.)

Initially, while your choice is from the entire database, once you confirm your squad, you're thrust into the gameworld. This is an individual server that can accommodate up to 1,000 managers at a time. To make sure there is still a good selection of players to choose from for even the last person to join that gameworld, once you're inside, the database is locked down. This limits the number of top players available until the gameworld fills up some more.

There will be multiple gameworlds at launch, each of which will contain a full copy of the database and won't interact with the others. Once a specific gameworld begins, time moves on at a standard rate currently around one in-game season per real-life calendar month, although it's possible that some servers will be available at launch that run at different speeds.

Now that the beta test is well underway and the number of users has risen from about 50 to more than 600, it's possible to get an idea of just how the dynamics of a much larger gameworld will run.

The biggest difference lies in the number of matches you're able to play. There are a range of choices available to you. To begin with, all of the matches you'll play will be either friendlies, which only affect your world ranking but don't contribute anything in terms of points, or matches scheduled in user-generated competitions.

These competitions can take the form of either a league or cup. They can vary in the number of rounds, teams, and even prize money allocated. It's normal to pay a fee to enter a competition, which will then go toward the prize fund. This fund can in turn be allocated in any way that the organiser so desires. It's also possible for managers who set up competitions to keep some of the cash as a tournament setup fee. Generally speaking this is frowned upon, although some managers have been more successful at hiding their motives than others.

For example, you might see a league competition announced that has space for 10 teams, an entry fee of £10,000, and a total prize fund of £100,000 to be split on a sliding scale between the first five places. Obviously, the better your team plays, the better chance you have of attaining a decent league position, grabbing some extra money and investing it back into your team.

Any senior match you play counts toward your global ranking. This is opposed to youth matches, which can be any game played using players aged under 21. You'll win more ranking points for winning away games and for beating those higher up in the rankings than yourself. The best opportunity to rise quickly lies in challenging top teams to a game at their stadium. But of course the reverse is also true, so if you lose at home to a team with a much lower ranking, don't be surprised to see your ranking drop upward of 20 places. The exact number of positions you change with each match is based not just on your results, but also the results and number of matches played by those teams around you. So working out quite how well or badly you might fare is never an exact science.

Although your world ranking affects the basic amount of cash you'll receive on a daily basis--ranging from £150,000 for the bottom club to £250,000 for the top club--the real interest began with the establishment by SI of several football federations in the gameworld. There are currently three main bodies, each designed to accommodate matches played at different times. While you'll pay a hefty fee to join, there are massive financial rewards to be had at the end of each season. For example, even if you finish bottom of the Extreme League--designed for managers who want to play multiple federation league matches every day--you'll walk away at the end of the month with a decent wedge more than you paid to join. The federations are basically the in-game equivalent of the Football Association, and there'll be more money available for the top leagues, as you'd expect.

Additionally, there are also spin-off federation competitions, including cup and youth events. While the amount of prize money is determined by the federation's negotiations with the "TV companies," there's plenty to go around. It's likely that over time, managers who are successful in the official competitions will be able to leverage a lot of financial clout. Some top players have already been sold for more than £1 million--despite the impact this might have on wage budgets.

Because over time players will age, retire, and be replaced by fresh talent, however, the existing real-life monopoly that some rich clubs enjoy may well not be replicated in Football Manager Live. As a lowly ranked team, we still managed to pull out a couple of friendly victories against the current top clubs and saw our rankings leap as a result. Over time, the federations will likely split their members into a tiered-league system, not unlike the setup in most countries today. That will mean that, even if you don't have the players--or tactics--to succeed, there's definitely a long-term challenge for you to take up, and you get the feeling that you're always in with a chance.

With still such a long time to go until launch, Sports Interactive will continue to add new features and tweak the match engine. How addictive FML will prove to be and how the gameworlds will develop over time isn't something that will be answered any time soon, so keep checking back for more on the game in the coming months.

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