It's good to talk
Another aspect of the game that's now beginning to develop fully is the community angle. As the number of testers has grown and new game worlds have been set up, the official competition structures set up within the worlds - the football associations - are becoming more player-run, and more individual as a result. While some associations cater to the more hardcore players, who are up for matches scheduled at almost any time of the day or night, others are kinder to those with actual real lives to consider, and even allow the computer AI to take charge of games without penalty.
There is also a nice variety of league structure within the different associations as well. TV money is assigned depending on how many members an association has, and then users - overseen by SI regulars - are free to establish a mixture of competitions, from traditional league pyramids to friendly and competitive cups and under-21 leagues. And of course the possibility of inter-association competitions is raised after the first four-week season, as champions and high performers then qualify for the FML version of the European cup competitions.
Add to that the various other community functions, such as voting, non-association user-created competitions, feedback, chat rooms and of course the transfer market and it's even possible to get an impression of the added value that an online proposition could bring to the FM series.
It's skill, innit?
And speaking of additions, one of the latest elements added to FML in the past few weeks is the notion of skill training, a system not unlike that found in EVE Online - you choose from a huge list of potential training options and the game will then train that skill over time, whether you're logged in or not. The range of skill options encompasses virtually every aspect of the game's other facets, with the obvious ones such as general and specific skill training, as well as more spurious ones like financial management and influence.
What this brings to the game is the tried and tested aspect of levelling up a character, which can become a pretty addictive theme - although this particular method does mean that older characters will always have a potential advantage over newer ones, something which might affect the game's appeal to newcomers.
Getting deeper all the time
In fact that last point is something that's clearly developed over time since the game was announced and the alpha test ended - with each new iteration the game's taken on a more focused, less casual approach. Initially the billing of Fantasy Football meets eBay conjured up images of a game that could appeal to any net-using Telegraph reader, but nine months on and the mechanics have definitely evolved. It's more likely that FML will appeal to SI's existing user base, and work for those that are already familiar with and playing online games, while serving as an entry point for those who aren't.
One thing is for absolute sure - it's incredibly hard to achieve any degree of success if you define success as winning leagues and cups. Whereas in Football Manager 2008 and other single-player games you write your own story, for better or worse, it's all too easy to have yours written for you - and although you're in no danger of getting the sack, making significant strides as the seasons roll by seems to become harder.