Can computer games emulate real life?
Football Manager players have been comparing their in-game results and 9outcomes to real life for years. Although it's exciting to find the next best talent, wonderkids in the games rarely make it in real life (see Freddy Adu, Football Manager 2005) and shock results like Burnley winning the Champion's League for a fourth time are left to the realms of fantasy. Sports Interactive, the game's developers, have spotted an opportunity to try and make their games more realistic and now host an official comparison to leagues around the world. Some of their game-generated predictions even come close to real life outcomes.
Football Manager has become more than just a game, with the newest version boasting hundreds of thousands of players and coaching staff from across the world. Statistics on players are painstakingly collected over the development lifecycle of each version, with real life data on goals, assists, injuries, form and even favoured team and personnel fed into the frighteningly brilliant game engine, which allows players to simulate full seasons with in-depth stats. Real life clubs even use football manager to scout players, with the data now believed to be so accurate that it can help to predict things like player potential.
This aspect of football is very difficult, as managers are reliant on scouts and coaches to feed them information on whether they think a young star can make it or even go on to become a world-class athlete. This is also true in Football Manager games, as player attributes and potential are often masked, just like in real life. This has led to a constant online community discussion about who can be picked up for a small transfer fee, but will continually bang goals in for the next ten seasons. Developers have grown wise to this aspect of the game and realised that the whole process is much more satisfying if predicting the next big thing is as realistic as possible.
When young players manage to win a place in the squad in real life and go on to do well, fans and the media go wild. The story of a youngster rubbing shoulders with elite veterans is incredibly exciting for many, especially if the player is local or came through the team's academy. Just look at the likes of Marcus Rashford, Wayne Rooney and Tom Davies, all of whom have exploded onto the scene and have either gone on are are beginning to cement their status as a world class player. This season has had some great stories just like this, with players like Kylian Mbappe shining for Monaco and Mason Holgate stepping up to the plate for Everton. Looking at their profiles on Football Manager however paints a slightly different picture, with both listed as 'good but not great' even after years of virtual squad development. It just goes to show that no matter how complex the computer simulation, there will always be real-life scenarios that will dictate just how good a player can become.
Predicting season outcomes is where Football Manager can really start to impress. By looking at the odds of teams at the start of the season then seeing how they fair in a simulated game, Football Manager fans can see how their season compared to not only the pundit's and bookies' predictions at the start of the season, but also the final league placing as the season draws to a close. In the official prediction, Sports Interactive placed Chelsea in first, followed closely by Tottenham. So far so good, as it looks like these two could easily finish as they are. However, Arsenal were predicted to finish third but in reality may even struggle for top 5 at their current pace. City and United are also in the running for the top four, but Liverpool are predicted a 5th place finish when it reality they could easily manage 3rd. Interestingly, Everton's prediction looks fairly accurate, but fellow over-achievers West Brom were predicted to do much worse. Although they aren't safe yet, Hull were doomed to failure by the simulation but their fighting spirit may do them some favours yet. Overall, the results are fairly accurate, so even if you had blindly picked your predictions based on Football Manager outcomes, it's likely that you would have walked away with some money.
It will be interesting to compare the real-life final standings to the Football Manager predictions in May, but the real question is whether future versions can get so good at emulating real life that the predictions can become eerily close to the real thing.