After years of playing Football Manager, logging into Football Manager Live proved a bit of a shock. While many of the skills picked up from hours trawling through Sports Interactive's hugely addictive database certainly have a place in FM Live, there's now a whole new world to get to grips with. This time every manager in the game is sat somewhere in the world, agonising over every decision and celebrating every goal just as you are. FM Live isn't the real thing, but if you thought the standard Football Manager was addictive, prepare to sacrifice your social life on a completely different level.
After setting up a subscription (the retail game comes with four months access and you can subscribe at a cost of £7.66 to £6.10 per month depending on how many months you commit to), choosing a team name (I'm the Juicy Danglers if anyone is wondering) and joining a game world (each has a maximum of 1000 users), it's time to wave goodbye to your loved ones, stock up on energy drinks, load up FM Live and get started. SI has done a good job of easing players into things with a helpful setup assistant guiding newcomers through the basics and ensuring it's not necessary to spend hours wading through stats before a ball is kicked. It's entirely possible to be playing another online manager within minutes of loading the game, putting you well on the way to legendary status as the next Alex Ferguson.
The first important decision players will need to make is choosing a starting skill. There are six areas to specialise in (coaching, physio, scouting, management, infrastructure, tactics and learning) and your starting skill will give you a head start in that skill tree. Think of skills as FM Live's version of hiring staff in the classic offline FM games, only now you as a manager must learn new skills which can take anything from minutes to a whole month. If you want to bring in talented youth players and transform them into superstars you'll want to concentrate on coaching and scouting, but fancy yourself as a blackboard wizard and you'll definitely want to go down the path of tactics. Personally I went down the coaching skill path, allowing me to bring on promising young players, but that did put me at a early disadvantage compared to those who went straight in with tactical skills. Who made the right choices won't be apparent for some time, but it certainly makes for a great mix of skill sets amongst the managers in each league.
'... picking a team of relative unknowns is much harder than it sounds.'
Once you've decided your starting skill it's time to pick your initial squad. FM Live will automatically pick an 18-player squad for you, which can be ignored entirely if you wish, but most players will likely wish to tinker with the suggested squad rather than start from scratch - picking a team of relative unknowns is much harder than it sounds. All starting players have a transfer budget of £500,000 and a daily wages budget of £100,000. Once you're happy with the squad - more on the transfer system later - you finalise your selection and sign each player on a one season contract (a season lasts 28 days of real time). From here it's a case of joining a Football Association (each has specific times at which matches are expected to be played so you should be able to find one to suit your lifestyle) and you're set to go.
Once in a league (you'll be assigned to one by the organisers of the FA) your fixture list will be created, with each match having an associated date by which a particular game needs to be played. Fixtures can be played in any order, but fail to complete a match by its play date and AI rights will be awarded. Whichever team is awarded the AI rights then has 24 hours to play the match, with the opposition team under the control of AI. The disadvantage here is that an AI manager will only make required changes - such as when a player is injured or fatigued - and won't make any tactical changes. If this match isn't completed in a 24 period then an AI vs AI match will take place.
To encourage 'live' matches penalties are in place for completing too many games with AI. The percentage of AI matches allowed will vary depending on your FA, but exceed the set limit and the money due to you in a competition will be reduced on a sliding scale. In a competition with a 40 per cent AI limit and a 50 per cent penalty you will receive no penalty if your team keeps under the 40 per cent limit. Play all games using AI and you will receive a 50 per cent fine, while 70 per cent AI games will result in a 25 per cent fine. Managers are also allocated a set period of holiday over the course of a year, which when activated prevents AI matches from counting towards the total AI match percentage.
Matches in FM Live are much like the classic overhead view in FM (the new 3D match engine isn't present here), but initially managers don't have FM's wealth of tactical options available, giving the feeling that you're stood in the dugout shouting instructions but no one is listening. As with other aspects of FM Live, you'll need to increase your skills in this area to open up more tactical options. This of course won't stop you from taking all the glory if your team is performing well, even if you've done little more than pick a starting eleven. You're not completely useless as a novice manager, seeing as you're able to make real-time substitutions and formation changes, but your managerial prowess really won't be shown until you've learnt the necessary skills.