Oh my giddy aunt. Here's a concept for you: an online football management game where you pit your wit and cunning against 1,000 other wannabe Mourinhos and Fergies, competing for trophies, accolades and the best players. "Who could possibly pull it off?" you may ask. Sports Interactive, makers of the mind-bendingly addictive Football Manager, that's who. It's called Football Manager Live.
We had a heart-rendingly brief squiz at FM Live this morning. It's only in the alpha stage of development at the moment, with a single server, but apart from some slowdown it seems playable. It's very different from normal Football Manager (which SI will continue as a separate annual franchise) -- instead of picking a real-world team, you create your own football club, call it whatever you want, name the stadium, give the team a nickname, choose the strip and set about building a team.
There are two major restrictions on your fantasy squad. You have a limited wage budget, so you have to balance superstars with relative unknowns. And there's only one of each real-world player in each 'gameworld', or server. So only one team can have Ronaldo or Rooney, and they're a mercenary bunch -- they play for the highest bidder for a month, then they're off. FM Live uses the renowned FM player database, so all the players are real and their attributes realistic assessments of their abilities. There's a transfer market as well, so you can use your winnings to prise players away from other teams -- if your rival accepts your offer. Players will develop over time, but there aren't any scouts or coaches -- you just search by ability.
You compete against other teams on your server, which you choose depending on how long you want your season to last -- a week, a month, a real season. You score points by playing in tournaments, which can be open to anyone or invitation-only. Scoring is weighted to help players who can't spend all day online, so the more games you play every day, the fewer points you win or lose in each match. There's a forum, so you can chat with people online and challenge them to a friendly, and you can wager in-game cash on the outcome.
The match engine is a slightly stripped-down version of the single-player game, although more bells and whistles may be added. Once you've both set tactics and agreed on a game speed, off you kick. You can both pause to make changes at any time (within normal footie rules, of course) and you can chat while the game is in progress.
Crave is abnormally excited about this -- it's theof football. Which means the release date is absolute agony: FM Live won't be out until March 2008. It's the longest pre-season ever. -Nick Hide
Update: CNET.co.uk's sister site GameSpot UK has a hands-on preview of Football Manager Live.