I'm terribly addicted to Football Manager

How a sport simulator can take over your life during the transfer market season

Just when every football fan in Europe is watching the Euro 2012 in Poland and Ukraine I just seem to be distracted by something else. Every summer since I remember the lack of real football games and the days prior to an international competition makes me resort to virtual football club simulation. 

This isn't anything new. Looking in my drawer of old video games I find a CD-ROM copy of PC Futbol by Dynamic Multimedia from the season 94-95. I recall playing one with diskettes before that though. According to Wikipedia there was a Football Manager back in 1982 which looks extremely basic — and retro-awesome — by today's standards. The saga is now taking over my free time used to be published by Eidos and has been around since 1992. Over the last decade, Sega has taken the responsibility of bringing a new edition every year keeping the same elements of the original without much influence from modern gaming trends. The original idea remains appealing.

I've been playing non-stop this and other managerial tycoon type games to almost compulsive levels. Given the massive distribution levels of iOS devices this sounded like the perfect platform to expand the plague and ruin productivity of football fans worldwide. In 2010 Sports Interactive brought Football Manager Handheld to the App Store, a portable version based on the PSP game with the same name but adapted to the iPhone and iPod Touch's multitouch displays. 

Sure there were some copycats already selling on the App Store but for the crackhead inside us the feeling is something between disapproval — how can dare they to bring this to a mobile phone — and curiosity. Despite the high selling point compared to popular casual games, you knew Football Game wouldn't grow stale. There's a value proposition you're familiar with: a game engine capable of generating content for your fantasy leagues until you're fed up and move on. In fact, if you are lucky, you'll manage to have friends and a girlfriend before winning the Champions League five times.

Remember buying a copy every year?

In 2012 Sega delivered a bit later than expected but at least it was an evident proof that the App Store experiment was successful. Whenever I go through the Top Grossing lists in the UK Football Manager is usually there. This is a niche thing in a country like the United States but in Europe this thing is massive: for a crowd who has spent the last decade buying a new version of the game with little changes other than updated squads, this isn't a purchase decision. This is what sales experts must be calling guaranteed repeat sale.

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For my joy the 2012 included many good things over the new rosters. Controversially for some, the first 2011 game kept being updated before the new edition went on sale. I find it a nice goodwill gesture since it doesn't force you to upgrade straight away and makes clear the new game must have something different to justify buying it again. Of course your average angry iTunes reviewer thought this was out of order but the amount of reviewers also says a lot about this genre and not only how people relate to the game. 

The mobile translation has become a massive time sink ever since I downloaded it in my iPhone. Most of the game consists of looking at the screen and thinking, which is perfect to avoid looking like a maniac while commuting. I've seen grown up men in the London Tube playing FIFA 2012 on the iPad and believe, it's not a pretty picture. If I have to be a football freak, I'd rather be the FM player that cheers spontaneously with a goal when I was only staring at my iPhone. 

Why is it so difficult to put down? 

In order to find a cure for this football management addiction, I've been trying t identify the source of evil. Let's face it, the gameplay isn't the most exciting thing ever. It's difficult to believe that the adrenaline kick could be responsible for it. Regardless of the version you're playing, the game consists of a series of menus and a top-down view animation where players are represented by circles.

I suspect the addition comes as you get invested in the game and begin playing the future of your virtual career and the one of your players. I've found difficult to change manager jobs and sells star players. I cannot let go! At times the satisfaction comes from seeing retire one of your real life idols on your neighbourhood team. The freedom to assemble the squad of your dreams or perhaps to redeem the mistakes from your club in that final also have a lot to do. I find myself getting a Football Manager caring whenever I read about the transfer rumours in the summer and when we are close to big international competitions. 

Now that I'm going to get  a daily dose of football thanks to the Euro 2012, it sounds like the perfect occasion to quit playing. I don't want to be watching the quarter finals with friends and secretly think how could I attract this starlet striker to my team with the current wage limitations the board has imposed. It's time to find an answer for my addiction.

Therapy to kick the habit

Play on a device that you leave at home

With the lack of iCloud sync between devices, you won't have any temptation to play a quick game during the day. Assuming you don't take the iPad with you everywhere you go, this can limit the amount of time you invest on Football Manager during the day.

Delete all the game files with your saved games even on iCloud

To avoid catastrophes and losing all your progress, the game saves your games as documents you can export when you sync your iOS device with iTunes or are backed up using iCloud. You can always keep a copy buried on your PC's hard drive: it makes it very tedious to install the saved games again. The recommendation here is more radical. Get rid of them! You know that deleting the app won't be enough.

Cheat looking for young players online

One of the aspects I find more amusing in my team building strategies is to buy young starlets cheap and see them develop with the years. In the past I have looked up guides and lists of youngsters, but this spoils the fun in a great measure. 

Reload a previous saved game when things don't go well

The cheaters and the competitive people between us know this one for sure. With four saving slots you can force quit the app and begin fresh when games don't go according to plan, offers for players aren't accepted or your job application for a new manager post ends up on the trash. 

Keep winning everything without changing your team

Like the AC Milan of the last decade, you can become an elephant cemetery where the likes of Maldini and Ronaldinho end up. A strategy of high wages for world-class players will put a premature end for your game.

If all of these fail, why not trying a new game? There are handfuls of strategy games for iOS that can be equally time consuming and give some fresh air to your gaming life. Something like Pocket Planes from Nimblebit or anything from Kairosoft will help you to kick the habit... Until the new season begins!

Photo credit: Chris Turner