Monday, 12 May 2008


So I promised I'd write something tonight banging on about the similarities and differences between the two products in the Sports Interactive stable.

I got FM08 on release day, from the retailer I thought most likely to deliver early. I was as desperate as ever to see the latest edition. However, I'd got into the FML beta last June, and alas my copy of FM08 has been sadly neglected. I play now and then, but FML has added a social aspect to the game that is almost irreplaceable for me, though I'm starting to make time again now for my first love!

So... FM09 will surely be out some time between October and Christmas 2008. FML is out in the summer. Which is for you?

First things first - FML is not FM Online. They are two different games, entirely - FM already does online, and does it perfectly well, I imagine. FML is a whole different experience, for some it will be better, for others worse.

FM09 - and you heard this here first - will be terrific value for money. There's no other product that can deliver so many hours of game per pound (dollar, whatever). That's a lot of hours - and if you have them, great, it'll be a match made in heaven. But a lot of people don't have time for FM any more, many of its fans have grown up with the product. It's these guys who are going to need to be a bit more casual for which FML is intended.

There are plenty of hardcore guys in the FML beta, who spend massive percentages of their life online and believe that FML is for them and they should have every advantage going as a reward -but they are wrong. FML is designed from the ground up to reward active players - irrespective of how active they are. It's perfectly possible to go on 2 or 3 times a week, or to only play 2 or 3 games a day and still be massively successful.

The other aspect of course is what FML can bring to FM. Naturally there will be feedback between the two. The match engine is in continual development, and having 6 GWs playing tens of thousands of games every day has proven a great test-bed for it. The match engine has come on in leaps and bounds - especially in terms of realism. Gone are the arrows and the contradictory instructions - a defensively-minded midfielder being forward-arrowed, a guy on the left wing playing in the middle because he's been side-arrowed to the right wing - and I believe they're gone for good. Alternatives will be needed in the longer term (hopefully for FM09, at least), but the balance is now much better.

There are also some other features that must make the leap to FM09:
  • Customisable view filters. Want to rank by Heading and still see Value and Injury Status at the same time? Fine!. I have set filters made for every eventuality, and it puts me in charge of what's on screen, and how it is displayed. This is massively empowering, and would bring a big breath of fresh air to FM09. Of course there are still good default filters, but you don't know what is missing from FMs UI until you've tinkered with this in FML. And that's customisable filtering for every screen by the way...
  • Player stats page - no offence to Ter, or whoever designed the Stats page for players in FM08, but it's shockingly useless. I've got David McNamee at right back for my Sheffield United squad - he's made 304 out of 435 passes so far this season - is that good? I've no idea. There's an orange bar by it if that helps. Well it's kind of yellower than orange... Hmm. In FML, we see percentages - my right back in FML (Greg Halford, who will be leaving in just under 3 days as he's up for sale) is on 73% for passing. His backup, Ivica Boatic, is on 63%. Any clearer? I think so...
  • The UI - it's clean, crisp, and I know where everything is - in FM08, I'm often left floundering - getting to my reserve fixture list takes 4 clicks. It takes 2 in FML.
  • Custom slider settings. What's the difference between width = 14 and width = 15? I don't know, and what's more I don't want to care. The skills in FML have meant that I can customise how many notches my sliders have - and for me, that number is 7. Not 21. We've got to be able to customise this in FM09.
  • Fractional match ratings - yes, seeing a player get a 7.1 is better than seeing him get a 7.
  • Shot feedback - clear cut chances, number of long shots, blocked shots - all good, all helpful. Too many long shots, even though the players are all set to rarely? Maybe you're too narrow...
The overall theme I guess is 'customisable ease'. Hopefully this ease and improved playability will make it into both of SIs games.

Things in FM that shouldn't make it into FML? Why not...
  • Team talks - these are pretty tedious in FM, to be honest. Imagine multiplying that tedium by several orders of magnitude as you get through thousands of games...
  • Media - again, likewise. Unless it can be done well, it should all be user-driven in FML.
  • Realism - FML isn't FM, it's not about real football and real league structures - there has to be a balance between believable and fun. Who wants to pay £x a month to languish forever 10 divisions off top-flight football? No-one, pyramids for the win!

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