Du Malone writes: So far as I can see, the FM community takes a generally Whiggish view of history. By that I mean, principally, that the development of the game through successive editions is seen usually in terms of progress: recent editions are perceived as better than previous ones.

This view is often accompanied by a ‘presentist’ perspective. A contrast between an earlier edition and the most recent will reveal what the former lacks. On this view, FM history moves not only onwards, but also upwards.

I do not share this view.

If it is your view, I don’t say that you are wrong. We each experience FM in our own way and so will arrive at diverse evaluations of each edition.

But I have experienced FM’s trajectory as something more like an arc — or even a falling off.

I’ve had many good saves on earlier editions, FMs 14, 15, and 17 especially (16, for some reason, not so much). Subsequent editions, especially 20, have proved much less engaging. (I should add that I’ve hardly played FM21). I haven’t found they produced so much in the way of compelling narrative.

I don’t deny that in some ways FM is progressive. My impression is that, over the years, FM has improved in terms of physics (the flight of the ball) and biomechanics (the movement of the players).

And, of course, each new edition brings new features. But that, for me is where the rub comes. Though I’ve found some new features welcome (the development of team training modules especially), many of them have left me underwhelmed.

When the marketing videos for the new editions come out, I often find myself thinking that the new features don’t answer to any perceived need. I had really never felt, for example, the need to be able to stand with hands on hips. I don’t blame FM’s developers, SI, for innovating — I dare say the video game market requires it: I just find that it doesn’t light my fire.

In fact, I’ve found it tends to detract.

I can see the point of mentoring groups and even think I see how they work. But I liked the simplicity of tutoring.

I can see that, at least in principle, the addition of dynamics adds realism. The effect of this is, however, somewhat offset by the way it’s implemented. I don’t believe that staff spend their time discussing ‘social group 3’ or whatever. It feels like living in a sociology textbook.

And, in any case, I suggest there can be a trade-off between realism and ludic quality. Though the realism of FM is undoubtedly part of its appeal, it doesn’t necessarily follow that each marginal increase in realism is a good thing.

I find it difficult to pin down in words exactly how I’ve found the accretion of realistic features can be detrimental to the ludic experience. The best I can do is to say that recent editions have come to feel more cumbersome and bureaucratic.

I believe that in 2021 FM has been flourishing, especially during lockdown, so evidently many users are happy. I have, though, sensed something of an undercurrent in online comments.

Those experiencing a degree of disenchantment have followed a variety of courses: some have drifted away from the game; some have pursued a policy of extensive delegation to the assistant manager, director of football, etc.; and some, such as @GafferGraemoFM, have switched to the relative simplicity of the touch edition — a move that I can see the logic of and may explore.

One consideration that’s led me to prefer the strategy of reverting to previous editions — I call it the ‘forwards to the past’ strategy — is visual design. I distinguish between visual aesthetics and usability. I can understand, though I don’t share, the view that the aesthetics of recent editions are superior: but I question whether the interfaces are as readily navigable or instantly legible or decodable.

From the perspective of usability, I find FM14 wins hands down, though I can see why many criticised its design as excessively spreadsheety. I guess I like a good spreadsheet. It may be I’m influenced here by the effect of declining eyesight — which leads me to wonder how far SI’s designers consider the effects of visual impairment (an open question: I’d be intrigued to know).

I can see that, come the autumn, I’ll be faced with a decision. Year after year I routinely, unthinkingly, purchase the new edition. Now I’m beginning to wonder. In 2021-22 I’ll certainly be playing FM but the question is, which edition?

PS I accept, of course, that if you want to keep up to date with real-life players, staff, and so on, you have to keep up to date with the game’s editions. For me, that isn’t an issue: I typically play in fairly low-level, faraway, leagues where I’ve never heard of anyone anyway.

Image credit: Louisville Ky ~ Louisville City Hall ~ Pediment ~ Progress  by Onasill ~ Bill, generously made available under a CC BY 2.0 licence.

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