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It’s unsurprising that one of the most popular gaming franchises in the UK is based on football management. Every fan of the beautiful game has their own theories, philosophies and hunches on what their team's best side would be and how they should be playing the game. Every supporter is a manager at heart and any game that taps into this desire is bound to succeed.
What is surprising however, is that the game which does football management best is structured by the rather impassionate manipulation of databases and spreadsheets. For over a decade now football fans have flocked in droves to pick up the yearly update of Football Manager (previously Championship Manager) but the question is why? Every year Sports Interactive takes the game, adds a few small features, add a year on all the players ages and tack on a smoother looking interface. And that’s it – no more, no less. Nobody complains, nobody demands for an overhaul, nobody screams the developers are being lazy and resting on their laurels. Sports Interactive essentially make exactly the same game year in year out and we lap it up. Why?
The answer is an age old cliché (and one commonly used in football coincidentally): “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” That phrase essentially sums up Football Manager. The basic formula works now as well as it did 10 years ago. You take control of any team you like from a choice of hundreds (as low as the Vauxhall North/South divisions in England) and your task is to fulfil the hopes of the board and supporters and maybe win a few trophies along the way. You buy and sell players and staff based on their in-game stats, you work out the most suitable tactic and then you launch simulated games which you have no direct control over to see if your plan worked. Since the first Championship Manager these have been the ingredients, and the resulting product has always been far tastier than any other football management game.
Football Manager 07s primary success is its ability to feel real. The most important factor to all of the games in the series is that results never appear too random. Sure you get a few dodgy scores but by and by the better teams win games. I took control of Barnet and began the season by losing the first three games. Worried I may lose my job as the Barnet supremo I studied the previous matches to see what exactly had gone wrong. A short bit of statistical analysis later and I’d narrowed the problem down to the fact that my wingers weren’t getting the ball enough and that my centre back had the positional sense of a female trying to park a Hummer, less influence than Saddam Hussein and quite possibly only one leg.