NEIL COTTON traces the evolution – and importance – of video games
The news that the Football Manager database will play a role in informing real clubs recruitment decisions via its integration into the Prozone Recruiter tool took me back to my earliest memory of playing a management sim. It was round my mate Kev’s house, us both poring over a green screen. I forget the title of the game, but it was pretty basic. Players would have a position and a simple rating and formations were limited to a few 4-4-2 variants. You’d choose your team, set the passing style press a button and after what felt like an eternity you’d receive the result.
As technology developed the management sim became more sophisticated and immersive. Players gained new attributes: heading, aggression, pace, even personality types. Formations multiplied and individual and team instructions could be given with tweaks made real-time during games. It was at Kev’s house again where I was first introduced to the Championship Manager series which would, in the guise of Championship Manager 2, claim a large chunk of my adolescence as I worked on my project of enabling Ajax to win every single available honour available in one season.
Parallel games where you could be a player were also improving rapidly. From the ballglued- to-foot days of the Commodore 64 came the independent ball physics of Sensible Soccer on the Amiga (which in my view remains the best football game ever), and in turn this was superseded by the isometric view offered by FIFA International Soccer. Near 30 years of striving for realism has led to the point where such games offer such faithful recreations of stadia and players that walking into a room it can be easy to get confused between a game on a Playstation, or X-box and one happening on TV, but for all this visual slickness and authentic-looking ment, identifying weaknesses, developing training plans, tactics and analysing the opposition and often involves using statistical tools. The victorious German World Cup reportedly utilised a sophisticated software programme called Match Insights which at first glance bears more than a passing resemblance to the match-screen of a management sim.
You can argue that all this may have happened anyway, that there was a certain historical inevitability as technology made it quicker and easier to gather, store and analyse data, but whatever the case management sims were an important primer changing the very way we read the game and, in so doing, changing the game itself.
Looking into that green screen with Kev, neither of us could have imagined how much impact that simple sim would go on to have.