When Sports Interactive announced it was resetting the Football Manager Live servers and ostensibly re-starting the game from scratch, there was understandable uproar within some sections of the FML community. Why, after 15 months of commitment, should die-hard subscribers have to forfeit the majority of their hard work? Sports Interactive's answer was that the game had become overly imbalanced towards early birds with a half-decent knowledge of the Football Manager player database. Once top teams had hoarded the majority of the best players, they became almost impossible to catch.
The decision to reset the servers was a bold and highly risky one, with the game's loyal fan-base ultimately the ones who've been the most penalised. Clearly, Sports Interactive is hoping to welcome a new wave of subscribers buoyed by the reset's more level playing field. But with the reset in full swing and with the game having undergone numerous tweaks and changes since we first reviewed it in January 2009, is Football Manager Live still worth investing your precious time and money into - especially if you've just had 15 months of work wiped away?
If you're one of the many players who've dedicated themselves to FML over the past year, the good news is that Sports Interactive hasn't forgotten about you. But whether you'll consider their efforts to placate you enough to warrant your continued loyalty, well, that's something only you can decide.
Your short-lists, match-plans, club name, tactics and most importantly, Skill Points have all been retained. However, there's a catch. Your Skill Points can only be spent on a limited number of specialist skills, meaning your attributes will be considerably less impressive than you're used to. The upside is that Football Manager Live does now feel far more even and balanced, and as a result has become a more skill-based managerial challenge, despite a few lingering loopholes. The downside is that you've pretty much lost everything else you've worked for, including your budding youth academies and expensive stadium improvements.
What is surprising is the timing of the reset. With the recent announcement that the 3D match engine is on its way to FML, it seems odd that Sports Interactive hasn't waited a little while longer before resetting. For all of the new, improved balancing and the more even playing field, there's an underlying suspicion that more could have been done to keep the attention of loyal fans other than a change of price - you can now pay a monthly fee of £4.99 rather than paying a lump sum for several months' subscription - and a few carried-over Skill Points.
It's also surprising that no attempt has been made to overhaul the game's puzzlingly ugly and, at times, confusing layout. A streamlined interface and the introduction of the 3D engine could have at least encouraged more subscribers to hang around while also proving more attractive to newcomers. Compared to the streamlined, polished presentation of Football Manager 2010, FML almost has the appearance of a hardcore indie project. Even veteran fans of the single-player series coming to FML for the first time could find themselves fumbling around as they attempt to decipher confusing interfaces that lack adequate player guidance.
It would seem that many long-term players are split between the bile-spitting disillusioned and the stoic die-hards intent on rebuilding their empires. However, while the chagrin of many is understandable, truth be told, FML has certainly become a better game since its reboot.