It’s video game week here at SB Nation, and if you’re not a gamer but intrigued by soccer-related video games, there may be a central dilemma: FIFA or Football Manager?
Those are the two biggest video games related to soccer out there (yes, I know there’s Pro Evolution Soccer, but I think I know all of one person who plays it), but if you haven’t been playing either for awhile, you may not know which one would be right for you.
Of course, you can play both if you want — it’s your life! Do what makes you feel happy! — but if you only have the bandwidth for one and you need help picking, here’s a guide to help you decide.
The FIFA series is a soccer simulation game. You play as a team in game situations, with abilities to play long-term “career mode,” basically play the plot of the Goal! movies through “The Journey,” and collect players in a league and play in a dynamic tournament through FIFA Ultimate Team (FUT).
FIFA is definitely the most popular soccer video game. Players themselves play it, people who aren’t really into soccer play it, it’s a real phenomenon.
Football Manager is also a soccer simulation game, but instead of focusing on playing as the players in a real sim, you play the manager and do the work. In a way, the point of the game is not the games, where you don’t control the players, but in managing, hence the title.
Football Manager is the game of choice for tactics nerds, obsessive fans and wannabe coaches. While it’s more niche than FIFA, Football Manager’s exhaustive database of players is strong enough that more than a few teams have literally used it to find real-life players to sign over the years.
FIFA20 is on PlayStation 4, XBOX One, Nintendo Switch, on PC via Windows, and the new Google Stadia platform. Since FIFA is commonly played online and the community aspect is so popular, PS4 is by far the most popular platform.
Football Manager 2020 is available on PC via Windows, on all computers through the Steam store, Android and Apple platforms, Nintendo Switch and Stadia. If you want the full experience, you need to play on a PC gaming rig (or any computer with enough gaming power), otherwise the Switch and Android and Apple mobile versions offer two different, less robust versions that don’t require as much RAM to play. Since every FM game is individual, you don’t interact directly with other players on your saves.
If you have patience, frankly both games are good for you. Football Manager is a game that requires patience — you can’t fly through a season in a setting, and depending on how involved you want to be in scouting and transfers as well as training, the day-to-day grind can be almost literal.
But FIFA has built out the components to go beyond simply playing the game engine in individual games, or playing other people through online play, with FUT and elaborate programs like Weekend League, where players are basically incentivized to grind Friday-Sunday to pick up rewards and bonuses.
On a very basic level, FIFA is played with a controller, usually. If you are comfortable with the sticks, you’ll take to FIFA faster. If you aren’t much of a console gamer, you’ll struggle to master the moves to actually play unless you put in the work.
In contrast, Football Manager is more of a world-building game. If you like games like Minecraft, it’s obviously more structured than that open world, but you can go at your own pace and within the confines of soccer, you can build or destroy your world to your own ends.
Hands down, FIFA is what the cool kids play. The age range of players is vast, but the demographic skews younger and again, it’s diverse: In addition to diehard fans and real-life players, there’s a generation of FIFA players who got into the sport through the game, or who aren’t really soccer fans in real life at all.
The Football Manager player skews to the nerds who embrace that mantle. This game embraces minutiae so much that every player is a huge fan of the sport already. But while many who don’t play Football Manager hear how it works and probably think it sounds like doing homework, if you get into it you can really enhance your understanding of the sport. Yes, there are weirdos who play Football Manager for a few years and arrogantly think they can actually coach pro teams in real life, but as an admitted nerd who plays the game almost daily, I do feel like FM helps me understand and appreciate soccer more in real life, too.
...If you’re someone who likes building worlds, if you like the process of a soccer club and want to think about it even when the games aren’t going on, and if you have a nerd’s interest and like the long play, Football Manager is the game for you.
...but if you’re an experienced console gamer, you want the freedom to flip between playing random friendlies and doing big quests, and prefer the playing aspect in general over managing a team, while also playing other humans in the game, then FIFA is the game for you.
Hope this helps! Which game do you prefer? Let’s chat about it in the comments below.