The overused critical broadside often fired at gaming is the idea that it discourages using your imagination, well not so with football management games. In fact the secret to the success of these number crunching databases is the player’s imagination as they translate the on screen text into glorious on pitch action in their heads. My own obsession with football management sims dates back to 1987 and a laughably simplistic game on the Commodore 64. It was called Soccer Boss.
The world of football management games was quietly ignited in 1992 when the first Championship Manager game was released by the Collyer brothers. The game was coded in their bedroom and written in BASIC. Needless to say it was not a huge success. The following year they switched to C and added real life player databases and the series began to take off. The format was established and there was a new version every few years with seasonal updates released annually.
The first one that really got me hooked was Championship Manager 97/98. It featured nine leagues from around the world, a large player database, plenty of tactical options and it ran smoothly on any PC. The next version, Championship Manager 3 was released in 1999. This was a big redesign with more leagues, more players and more options as a manager, including press and board interaction. By the time Championship Manager 4 came along in 2003 the series was universally loved and a huge seller across the world.
The release of CM4 was massive and it was the fastest selling PC game ever on its first day of release. Sadly it also marked a great departure for the series with a top down view of the match for the first time and a number of glaring bugs. There were signs that all was not right and, sure enough after the first seasonal update for CM4 in 2003, developer Sports Interactive and publisher Eidos parted ways.
Sports Interactive wanted more creative freedom and Sega were willing to give them it. They left Eidos with the name Championship Manager but they took the code base and the player database with them. This sparked one of the biggest rivalries in gaming history as SI and Sega went to war with Beautiful Game Studios and Eidos.
The first battle was one sided with SI developing a new iteration which played much like the old Championship Manager but under the new name Football Manager. You have to feel sorry for Beautiful Game Studios as they were landed with the task of writing a new game from scratch to compete with the experience and skill of a team who had been doing it for over a decade. They failed and as Football Manager 2005 hit shops in November 2004, Championship Manager 2005 was delayed well into the following year.
The new FM title was a refinement of the Championship Manager games SI had been producing for Eidos and the fans knew it. They dumped the old franchise and bought the new in large numbers. FM was also allowed to gain a foothold before the new CM was released and the fact CM 2005 was a much poorer game than FM 2005 when it did come out just compounded the dominance of the new series.
Since then Football Manager has gone from strength to strength adding a massively multiplayer online version and releases for the handheld market. It is widely recognised as the best football management sim on the market and for accuracy and tactical depth there is quite simply no competitor.
Things have gotten worse for Championship Manager with the rise of the quirky FIFA Manager series. A glance at the current Metacritic scores (average review scores) tells you everything you need to know, Football Manager 2010 tops the table with 88/100, FIFA Manager has crept into 2nd place with 75/100 and Championship Manager is languishing in 3rd on 73/100.
In football terms the once proud name Championship Manager has been relegated. The stands sit empty and the money is no longer there to put things right. To be honest Champ Man is actually better than FIFA Manager in my opinion but both are so far behind Football Manager that the argument is rendered redundant.
If you ever needed proof that the important name attached to any game is the developer not the publisher, then this tale provides it. To have dominated the field for so long is an impressive feat by Sports Interactive especially when you consider that they’ve been committed to annual releases. The secret of their success is quite simple – the games they make are fantastic and they are dangerously addictive. They’ve worked hard for their success and refused to rest on their laurels but that’s the thing about football, each new season is a new challenge and they can’t afford to let that determination and hunger slip. After all you’re only as good as your last result.
I originally wrote this for Boomtown.net but they have gone bust and the site has disappeared so….