One of the more recent threads about dying game worlds raised the issue of fantasy vs. reality, whether or not it’s reasonable to flit between the two as justification for the various features within the game.
Should FM Live be based purely in the realms of fantasy football?
Should it maintain the reality aspects of it’s offline partner, Football Manager 2010?
It’s an issue that affects all successful games, whether offline, online, console or the more traditional board games and RPG’s.
“How can we use the term ‘realism’ to justify one feature of game play and then say “FML is not supposed to be realistic” when justifying another?” – Jordan Cooper on podcast episode 35
The key to any successful online game is a sense of immersion; in order for an individual to accept the new reality of a virtual world they must first accept some facets of that world. This process is eased through providing links to the real world, some basic similarities that help to create the platform for the player to become immersed in the virtual world.
The most common format for this is through the graphical interface, whether it’s the real world mimicry of Second Life or the pure fantasy of World of Warcraft a lot of attention is put into the graphical detail. Tree’s that bend in the wind, water that ripples and flows, people or creatures that move like they should, all of these provide a link to the world we know (the real world) and are there to assist users in accepting the virtual world of the game as an alternate reality.
Football Manager Live doesn’t have the high level graphics of many of these more traditional virtual worlds, and as such other areas of the game require that sense of realism to help us become immersed in the ‘reality’ of the game world we play in. What it does instead is utilise many things we already accept, and combines them with the elements of realism that it can display.
From the Facebook style interface introduced in 1.2, the real names of players, through to the match engine which provides the most realistic simulation of a football match available. These are all used as hooks of realism to assist the user to make the transition from the real world to the virtual.
The lay-out of Football Manager Live borrows to a degree from it’s offline partner, and so it should. In essence the game is a glorified spreadsheet and the current screen lay out is both proven to work, and more importantly easily accepted by fans of the offline version. The introduction of the facebook style friends feature adds another layer to that which is comfortable to those that utilise that popular social networking system.
For now the vast majority of FML users come with a prior knowledge of FM and that makes the current interface an easy bridge, an acceptable immersion for them to enter the world. Whether it works or not for those without a background in FM remains to be seen, but the addition of the facebook style layout and the relative simplicity of the layout should make it easy enough for anyone.
The Match Engine
I doubt there’s too many that would disagree it’s the most realistic simulation of football available but for those not accustomed to the Football Manager series the top down view is somewhat archaic. “Dot Soccer” as it is sometimes called doesn’t immediately merge with the expectation of what football should look like, this is one area that will certainly benefit from graphical improvement and the introduction of the 3D match view is a must have for FM Live if it wishes to expand beyond the consumer base of it’s offline partner.
Real Name Players
The debate about whether it’s better to have known player names or regens will continue for some time amongst the FM Live faithful, the simple fact though is that having players with real names is a definite hook for many. For those not accustomed to the game it’s a vital link between reality and the virtual worlds, and new players will always prefer new worlds because of this. In fact many older players do too and it’s one of the biggest factors involved for managers hopping game worlds.
If game worlds are to continue long term then it’s an area that will need further consideration, real name players are a big attraction to new players and once they have all retired in an old world there is little incentive for people to join an older world over a newer one.
Stadiums and the coming academies, possibly even scouting camps, are a good opportunity for Football Manager Live to expand on it’s graphical interface. Offer a range of alternative structural buildings and the choice for users to implement their own designs.
Enhancing the sense of ownership by individualising these infrastructure elements will further immerse the user in the game world, and whether they are based on reality or fantasy becomes less relevant.
There is plenty of scope within the game to implement elements of fantasy, whether that’s through competition structure and names or simpler elements such as the currency, kit design or rewards and achievements. At some point. Football Manager Live will need to decide whether it’s an online version of the FM series or something altogether different.
While it’s sensible to maintain some similar aspects between the two there also needs to be a sufficient point of difference to attract an alternative user base. FM provides for the realistic approach to football management simulation, FML offers scope for much, much more.
Sort it out SI
What is the direction? What is the purpose of FML? Decisions need to be made on the long term vision for the game and that needs to be clearer to the general user. Is FM Live destined to remain the “little brother” of FM? Is it an offshoot or a completely new game?
For me the attraction has always been more about the “ownership” of the club, and less about the actual match day interaction, the world wide community and less about the one on one matches. What is the mission statement for Football Manager Live?
Getting this right is a vital step before any mass marketing campaign, making it clear to the user what the game is about is an important step.
The user interface, it works and doesn’t require a lot of improvement. Adding more user options in terms of skins or display options will continue to enhance it’s appeal to a wider audience, linking it further to social networking elements outside the game would be a good long term addition.
The match engine, now that it’s up to date it will be important to keep it that way. Keeping the FML engine on the ‘cutting edge’ will maintain a degree of interest for the most hardcore virtual manager.
The 3D match view is a vital element of interaction, with the current trend of better and more realistic graphics being used throughout the gaming industry, getting this implemented into FM Live sooner rather than later will be a vital key in expanding the user base.
Real name players are a big issue for many, finding a way to re-introduce them into the database for older worlds would assist the long term attraction for many. Whether through regeneration of known players, or by adapting the starting system and assigning some known players (once they had previously retired) to all new users it would be an entertaining hook for all.
The alternative would be too move away from any real player names, but that’s likely to be of interest only to the more experienced managers which would limit the accessibility and possibly the longevity of any such worlds.
Utilising the infrastructure elements of the game to expand the individual sense of ownership and the graphical appeal of the game, this area provides a lot of scope for both. Whilst the base elements of stadiums and academies are headed in the right direction increasing the individual control we have over them, will increase the sense of immersion.
Finding small ways to separate FML from the real world and more importantly from Football Manager 2010, will go along way toward developing it’s own identity. Introducing fantasy aspects for many of the smaller elements is one way of doing this. We don’t use real world prices, so why do we have a real world currency?
It’s not so much a matter of how can we use realism as a justification or not, more a matter of when do we. It’s important to have realistic links to help immerse those playing into the environment, but it’s just as important to have an individual identity for the game itself.
Knowing when and how to utilise the realism justifications is something that will require consideration, and an element of trial and error. A more proactive approach toward toying with these elements in the beta game worlds would be a good start, but the most important factor will be the decision made within SI Towers about the future identity of Football Manager Live.
Next – Maybe They Should: A quick review and a look at whether the old worlds are worth saving!
If there’s an issue you feel has a detrimental effect on your game world, or the game in general then post a comment below.
|Written By Mark Burton
A moderator since May 2008 in a number of beta worlds and now GW Fowler, he strives to highlight the community aspects of FML and inform new & experienced users about future game development.