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Xaor's Corner: In Search Of A Career Mode Online

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I’m taking a (probably brief) break from the ranting and instead focusing on an idea for future FIFA’s: bringing Career Mode online. See all previous Xaor’s corner articles here

So on Wednesday the Back to the FIFA: Career Mode post was put up on FSB requesting your ‘blue-sky-thinking’ ideas about where Career Mode should go in future. If you haven’t already, be sure to post any ideas in the comments of that post. For my part, I’ve been reading through all of your ideas, and there are plenty of good comments there already, including some really interesting ideas. I myself have been giving Career Mode’s future some thought too, and so I thought I’d devote this article to the most ambitious possibility: putting Career Mode online.

One area FIFA has innovated greatly in over this current generation (one which is quickly coming to an end) is in expanding the online game modes beyond the general drudgery of endless head-to-head matches to provide longevity and continuity in the form of Virtual Pro Clubs, FIFA Ultimate Team, and most recently the Head 2 Head Seasons mode.

Career Mode on the other hand remains a lonely offline experience. This is one of the few online areas Pro Evolution Soccer has FIFA beat with Master League Online, and one could also point to both Football Manager and Football Manager Live as other examples of online management experiences.

So if this was to change, and FIFA was to implement an online Career Mode (let’s say, “CMO”) how would it be? The current examples can more or less be divided into two types – open, where everyone plays in the same large almost MMO style system (as with say, Virtual Pro Clubs and FUT), and closed, where groups each play in their own instance.

So let’s say FIFA’s CMO was to go down the open route and mimic PES’s MLO. There are no real teams, nor real league structures, and buying/selling players is done through a central trade house, where players worth falls and rises as their popularity does.

There is nothing especially wrong with this, but the structure is far removed from that of real life or of Career Mode due to the lack of real ‘leagues’, fixtures, seasons, and of course teams. Though you could call it a Career Mode online it’s really not much more than Head 2 Head Seasons with trading. Probably an even larger issue is how similar it would be to FUT. Imagine FUT without the ability to spend real money, the existence card packs, and the ridiculous chemistry system: it would basically be an open CMO.

For that reason it seems difficult to imagine that CMO would have a significantly large userbase above and beyond what FUT already has, and EA are unlikely to split the FUT userbase when FUT is such a great income stream. If they did it would likely end up being a niche for users put off by the fact that FUT values real money at least as much as footballing know-how (though one might note that with the rise of the ‘Sugar Daddy’ owners this is somewhat analogous to real football!).

A Different Direction

That doesn’t mean FIFA can’t have CMO. Increasingly, what I think might be the best answer would be a closed system, one which doesn’t so much represent an MMO but works to make a Career Mode an event between a private group of friends.

This harps back to the days where you might play a manager mode or tournament locally between two or three people, and I’m sure a lot of the older FIFA players will have done this at some point. Sure, there were pitfalls – it wasn’t all that fun watching your friend grind out matches against the CPU but then it certainly added something above the exhibition mode matches or the lounge mode. In fact, I still see plenty of people pining for the local multiplayer CM’s return.

But what if you could start a multiplayer Career Mode like that, but online? What if you and one, or two, or five or twenty others could all play in one footballing world together? You could take on your favourite teams, or take over some of the best teams in the world. Maybe you’d choose to start with the teams at the bottom and race to the top. The possibilities are both exciting and innumerable.

This isn’t an entirely new idea. The Football Manager titles have supported online play like this for a long time. It’s not remotely user friendly, but even so there is a small hardcore community which organises network FM games online, and I’m sure plenty of friends have played with itover LAN. I dabbled in it for a while, and though it’s hard to organise, it adds a lot to the normal FM experience. The network games in FM are built into the single player structure with connected players joining as new managers.

There are really only two major issues. First is that you need everyone to be online at once to play, and second is that gameplay slows down a lot when a large number of people all have to agree to ‘continue’ after each turn, or proceed to a match. Sports Interactive have created some features to soften the problems, like the assistant managers which can take over if you are absent, and having time limits for goes. Even so, it still takes a high level of dedication to get a really good game going over a long period of time, but you could say the same of FIFA’s Virtual Pro Clubs.

So the feasibility is definitely there, but could FIFA improve upon this model to bring more of the good, and less of the bad in this potentially awesome mode? It would undoubtedly take a lot of work: no implementation of CMO is going to be anything less than a massive undertaking for EA, but I do think a CMO which worked like this could end up being a really popular mode across a wide demographic.

What follows is a plan for a mode like this. It should be noted that this is not a plan for how it could fit on top of FIFA 12, but rather an outline of how it might fit in on FIFA in the coming next-gen.

How it might be done

Ideally, this vision of CMO ties as closely as possible to the offline version. This should reduce development costs while ensuring that CMO keeps as true to what CM is as possible.

The biggest issue such a mode would have is the difficulty of getting people online at the same time to play, and this gets worse if you are in a large group. It’s important then that any such mode has a number of features which aim to get around the worst of this problem. As best as possible, the mode should be designed to reduce the amount of times that players have to be on together, and also that the mode should be tolerant of situations where players aren’t available.

The traditional method way of constructing a mode like this would be to have a host who owns the game, who stores the saves, and who everyone connects with to play. It would work, but it also makes it harder to organise: the host always has to be on for every session and people can only play when the host is there. But what about if the game’s data was saved into EA’s servers – the ‘cloud’ – like Clubs, and Ultimate Team are? This would remove the dependence on a single host.

In this plan, CMO would be a turn based game. This means that each player takes their turn and does whatever they want to do for that turn before ending their turn. When every player has ended their turn, all of their actions take effect on the game, and then each player gets their next turn. Fortunately, for the most part, FIFA’s Career Mode already works like that.

When you combine the cloud based functionality with the turn based nature, you remove the necessity for players to be online simultaneously to make their moves. Obviously the mode will be at its best and fastest if everyone is on at once playing ‘live’ as it were, but it would no longer be a necessity. People could log in to do some transfer dealings and adjust their formations throughout a day, preparing for the matches later, for example. This whittles down the times when you absolutely must be online simultaneously to matches, much like in Clubs.

Another exciting possibility for the mode would be the incorporation of a web portal and mobile apps so that some management could be performed online. You could set up your tactics for your next match, scout around for players, or even put bids in from work or while travelling. This would both further the modes viability, as well as continuing to expand into an area EA is clearly very interested in.

Even so, there will be times where the game becomes deadlocked when waiting for players, and the game needs to have rules to deal with this. It really becomes a question of at what point does the game progress, even when not everyone is ready to. Here, it would be best to provide a range of methods for choosing when to proceed. It could be only down to a unanimous vote or the hosts choice, but I’d imagine most popular would be a solution which took into account how many people were ready to proceed, and then imposed a time limit based on that. For example, if half of the players are ready to proceed, it could enforce a five minute time limit, but if all but one player was ready, it would be one minute.

It’s crucial that users have the control over options like the above. Some groups may want to play every moment of every game together in a strictly organised set up, but some won’t. CMO should cater to this. Other options that should be available would be the ability to tune how many turns existed throughout a season, especially if you could choose a separate value for the transfer windows. For instance, a group might want to have a turn a day through the transfer window, but then reduce to a turn per matchday throughout the rest of the season.

Given that it’s possible that turns can be taken without a player, CMO would need some form of automation to make up for it. In Football Manager there is an assistant manager who can take over all of your duties, and that really is the ideal solution. He should be able to keep the club ticking over as well as managing matches that their managers are absent for. This way, if someone is away it has the least possible effect on his game, and everyone else’s game.

As for matches, there are a few things that CMO should do. First, all matches for a particular round of a particular tournament should be collated into one turn. This removes any unnecessary waiting around. I’d also suggest that players are able to start their match at any point within a turn. Matches of a particular turn don’t need to occur simultaneously, so once your opponent is online (or your opponent is a CPU) you can get it done. If players don’t turn up for a match, then the game should either be postponed, or played out by CPU substituting for the missing player.

Summary

  • Stays true to how CM works so as to remain authentic and reduce costs
  • Would be aimed at dedicated groups like online leagues, and at groups of friends
  • Game data is stored on the cloud to remove reliance on host
  • It would be a turned base scheme ala Football Manager, which would reduce the need for players to be on simultaneously
  • Players would only have to be online at the same time as their opponents for matches
  • User control through a variety of options is paramount, allowing the mode to be tuned to different groups’ needs
  • Possibly offer web and mobile apps to allow some management remotely

Conclusion

There are obviously thousands of little details to be thrashed out, but the outline is there, and of course much of the mode already exists in offline CM. That’s one of the advantages. Unlike the open style system, this one actually does stay true to what Career Mode is all about: you launching your managerial career into an authentic footballing world – just this time you’re competing against your friends as well.

By decreasing the amount of time players have to be online at once to a minimum, it changes what could be an organisational nightmare to something which groups of friends could manage, just as easily as playing as part of a Virtual Pro Club as many groups of friends do now, and the same could be said for online formed leagues. It may still seem like a big jump, but at the start of the current generation in 2005, how many people thought just five years later we’d able to play as individuals in full 11v11 matches through leagues and tournaments? With another generation on the horizon, perhaps an online career mode in some shape or form will be the next big innovative mode for FIFA, and just perhaps it could be something like this.

So I’ve gone into some depth on one way that a career mode online could work. What I’d love to know from readers is this: Would you be interested in a career mode online of some sort? Would you prefer it to be an open-network version like PES’s Master League Online, or FIFA’s Ultimate Team, or a closed one, like Football Manager offers and like the idea described above? Perhaps you’d go for something entirely different. Either way, I’d love to hear in the comments below.

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