As fans of the beautiful sport we all love called football, there are things that we do to keep ourselves involved when we’re not watching our favorite teams and players playing live. We read articles on the Internet, we watch preview and review shows that telecast pre or post live games, and we talk to our friends about what we think. Most of us play games that allow us to play as our favorite teams and our most-loved players, competing against pretty much anyone we want to play. And then, some of us go a step further, and get addicted to games that allow us to be the real men in the spotlight, the men who are truly in charge, when it comes to football clubs.
At this point, either you’ve understood that I’m talking about games that allow you to become the manager of pretty much any popular football club there is out there, or you’re incredibly daft (I’m going to take it that the latter is less likely) – but nevertheless, manager games, while nowhere as popular as either Electronic Arts’ FIFA or Konami’s PES series, once played and experienced, can be incredibly addictive. I’ve seen people who (in their prime) have played these games for over 10 hours a day with absolutely no breaks in between, and while this seems absurd, I think it is safe to say that this is a common phenomenon amongst people who enjoy “just being the manager”. This is in reference to what is probably the single most common reason people who love FIFA, cannot handle manager games – they cannot understand why people would only want to be the manager and not play the games themselves, as the players on the team, and actually control your team’s fate by scoring goals and keeping your opponents at bay. There is a simple response to those who believe that FIFA’s “Manager Mode” is worthy of being called a good simulation of what it is like to be the manager – it’s not. Sure, even the best manager games aren’t going to recreate the real-life experience of being a manager completely, but I have no qualms in saying that they do a better job than FIFA’s Manager Mode.
I digress. Now, in terms of popularity, I think it is safe to say that initially, Championship Manager was the end-all, be-all of existence (of manager games related to football) for anyone in my generation. Sure, when the first version of Championship Manager came out back in 1992, games like Premier Manager and The Manager were a lot more popular, with various limitations with respect to programming and features, and the simple fact that it was a brand new game that no one had really heard of not putting Championship Manager at the same level as either of these games. Nevertheless, it was one of the few that stuck around for a long period of time, and without a doubt, was the most popular of the lot when I got hooked onto manager games. Championship Manager 4, released in March 2003, broke all records at the time and became the fastest-selling PC game ever on its first day of release. It had it’s problems, of course – the game ran slowly on many PCs, famous superstars would move to smaller clubs fairly easily which made the game less realistic – and the most well-known bug of them all being the fact that Northwich Victoria, a non-league team, would in many games, move to a stadium that had a capacity of 850,000. (Yes, don’t rub your eyes, you’ve read that right, 850,000)
But from then on, things changed for the Championship Manager franchisee. The folks who were credited for the creation of the game, Sports Interactive, decided to split with Eidos (who decided to continue the Championship Manager series with new programmers at Beautiful Game Studios), signed with Sega, stating that they enjoyed more creative freedom under Sega. Championship Manager 5, the first game released by Eidos and Beautiful Game Studios, was a completely new game rewritten from scratch by new developers, while Football Manger, a new series created by Sports Interactive with Sega, was similar in gameplay when compared to the earlier Championship Manager games, which was quite obviously preferred by people who bought and played the earlier versions of Championship Manager.
Initially it seemed like both Football Manager 2005 and Championship Manager 5 would be released around the same time, therefore both being clear rivals to each other in the market. But with tons and tons of coding to be written for the brand new version of Championship Manager 5, Championship Manager 5 was released around 4-5 months after Football Manager 2005 did, after unforeseen delays that were not accounted for gave the Football Manager a golden opportunity to establish itself firmly ahead of Championship Manager 5’s release. With further releases, the Football Manager franchisee moved forward in leaps and bounds in terms of improvements to their interface and gameplay, while newer versions of Championship Manager did little to reduce the increasing gap in quality. For example, basic features such as the ability to manage international teams, features that were present on earlier editions, were not found on the first release of Championship Manager 2006 (this was later corrected with an update 3 months after the game’s release), which did little to help the reputation of the Championship Manager franchisee.
The war between Football Manager and Championship Manager had other games that bit the dust simply because they were not as popular as either of the aforementioned – EA brought out Total Club Manager, which was widely regarded as a flop, and then moved on to bringing out the FIFA Manager series, that is, funnily enough, still running – but again, is nowhere as popular as either Championship Manager or Football Manager when it comes to football manager simulation game addicts. Football Manager eventually beat out Championship Manager both in sales and popularity to the point where Championship Manager decided to reshape their entire interface for a second time, with Championship Manager 2010 – this interface change delayed the release of the game, and the decision came back to haunt them simply because it pushed a sizable number of Championship Manager addicts to switch over to Football Manager, who were (and still are) consistently improving with every edition.
Eidos then made Championship Manager 2011 an iOS-device exclusive, which, in my opinion, made the game redundant and not worthy of being called an actual football manager simulation game. While Football Manager made their interface incredibly sleek and powerful and moved to make the game available on the PC as well as the Mac, Eidos’ latest offering alienated all their PC users, and thereby contributing to their own demise. While I have not actually played Championship Manager 2011 simply because I do not own an iOS device, it is hard to not assume that simply because it is meant for mobile devices, the game does not give the user as much power and options as the PC versions of Championship Manager (let alone Football Manager) do. There is only so much you can do on an iPhone/iPod screen – or at least that’s the way I see it.
All in all, it’s a sad demise for Championship Manager – I actually believe that had they stuck to their interface and not switched to a FM-like interface in 2010, but improved on that, there would still be a fair fight between both franchisees. The people that liked the new Championship Manager interface liked it for its simplicity – while Football Manager gave the user more options and more power, Championship Manager’s strengths lied in its simplicity and ease to use – and this is what Eidos sacrificed with Championship Manager 2010. With that, I think it is safe to say that at the moment, it is hard to not state that the latest Football Manager release by Sports Interactive and Sega is the best football manager simulation game you will find out there.