As mentioned earlier, a season in FM Live lasts 28 real world days, and consists of a week-long pre-season followed by three weeks of competitive games. Much like the English Football League, FM Live's FAs feature a league system, although the structure varies from FA to FA. Some will feature a single Premier League and a selection of first divisions, with teams in a first division always only one season/promotion away from a place in the top division. Some FAs, however, opt for a more traditional structure. With a fully tiered system of leagues, teams starting in the lowest league will require several promotions in order to make it into the top tier. Each FA also runs a variety of cup competitions.
In addition to the individual FA competitions FM Live features a "Super FA" in the shape of UUFA, a union of all the FAs which brings together the best teams to compete in inter-FA competitions. This is essentially FM Live's version of European football, where all the serious players in the world of FM Live want to be. And on top of this you've also got a world ranking to play for (win and you'll gain some points, lose and you'll drop some, draw and you might gain or lose points depending on the opposition's rank) and the chance to claim the title of Game World Champion - simply the last player to beat the champ, so one victory could earn you a place in the FM Live hall of fame.
All this brings us nicely onto finances. Your club's wealth is a very important part of FM Live: a poor club will have to rely on getting unproven or past-it players on the cheap and won't have the funds to expand their stadium's capacity and income streams, while a wealthy club will be able to go in for the world's best and get even richer through massive ticket sales and increased advertising revenue. Each club is awarded a daily income of up to £300,000, a figure determined by a team's reputation, itself largely determined by a team's performance in FA competitions. Additionally, incoming funds can be generated through media money from the FA, prize money from unofficial competitions and the sale of players.
The transfer system in FM Live is an area which shares very few similarities to the system in place in the offline FM games. It's fair to say that here it's much more akin to an eBay auction than a true representation of real life wheeling and dealing. There are essentially three ways to secure the contract of a new player. A Free Agent wage auction is initiated when an out of contract player is bid on. This then starts a 24 hour auction with the team offering the highest wage winning the auction. In addition the winning bidder must also pay an acquisition fee (a player's set value) to the game world and a signing on fee equal to 10x the player's daily wage.
'If you have the money to pay a player's wage and any acquisition/signing on fee, he is yours - no negotiations take place.'
A similar process occurs for contract end wage auctions. These occur when a player's contract expires and a 24 hour wage auction begins (assuming an auto-rebid is in place). If at the end of the auction the player's current club is not the winner, the winning club will pay the acquisition fee to the player's previous owner and a signing on fee to the player. To stop a member of your squad from entering a contact end wage auction a manager has five locks which should be used to protect five key players. This lock, or auto-extend as it's called in FM Live, ensures your star players cannot be poached. Additionally players aged 19 or under can have their contact auto-extended without taking one of the five locks.
The most eBay-like transfers occurs when a manager chooses to put a player up for auction, specifying the length of the auction, the starting bid and even an instant buy amount. The winner is the manager who places the highest bid. It is also possible to carry out transfers outside of the auction system. Simply find a player you want and make a private bid directly to the club. If accepted the player is then yours for the agreed fee, plus an agent's fee of 10 per cent of the agreed fee. This is really the only situation in which bartering for players can take place. If you have the money to pay a player's wage and any acquisition/signing on fee, he is yours - no negotiations take place.
On top of all this there's the social element that comes from playing against real people, which is what turns a great stat-based strategy game into one of the most addictive games a football fan could play. There are always chats ongoing under various topics, and banter between managers during a match will range from the polite gl (good luck) and gg (good game), to compliments on a particular player's performance, and maybe even some strong words after a particularly close encounter comes to a 94th minute climax. After one particularly dodgy looking loan deal that saw a high quality striker going to a novice team on loan for a whole season the management community was up in arms, with emails flying across the game's messaging system - something which suggests it'll be hard for cheats to operate unnoticed. It's still the very early stages, too. Once leagues start to take shape and you begin to get to know rival managers there's no reason why real rivalries won't develop and disgruntled managers feel the need to lay into a rival, accusing them of man-marking the ref and his assistants. It's here where FM Live has the most potential and the reason we're being asked to pay a subscription.
All that should give you a solid idea of what to expect from FM Live, but should you buy it and sink your money into a monthly sub? After all, you can play FM 2009 for as long as you wish and no sub is required. The answer is a resounding yes. Importantly, FM Live manages to retain all the addictive qualities of the offline FM titles - building a squad, training, transfer dealing - only now you're competing against 999 other mangers all determined to make their team the best. For all its similarities to FM titles that have come before it, the focus on skill learning gives FM Live a fresh feeling that means even the most hardened of FM players will need to consider how they manage. This also means there's a real reward for sinking hours into the game, and will help separate a casual manager from a guy who's been carefully constructing a managerial skill set for many a season.
According to my manager stats, I've spent approximately 35 per cent of my life (since my team was created) logged into FM Live. Either I've got nothing better in my life to be getting on with or FM Live is the greatest football management game ever created.