The Championship Manager1 series has been known as one of the most addictive computer games ever. It brings with it the highs and lows of managing your favourite football team through countless seasons and has been responsible for many missed lectures, days off work and broken relationships. Although it can be played against a few friends over a network, it offers little scope for people who want to take on the world.
However, there are a number of football management games available on the world wide web. Hattrick has proved the most popular.
So What's it all About?
Once you have signed up, you find yourself the manager of a small team of no-hopers playing in the lowest rung of football in your chosen country.
Countries, Divisions and Series
The world of Hattrick is constantly expanding: more and more countries are getting leagues and more and more teams are joining. The leagues in Hattrick are called 'series'. Each consists of eight teams, playing each other home and away in a 16-week season2. These series are arranged into divisions. The top division in each country only has one series (eight teams). The next division down has four series (24 teams), the next 16 (128 teams), and so on. The larger countries can have as many as ten divisions. Once past eight divisions, the tree structure stops expanding.
It is far easier to get relegated to a lower division than it is to be promoted. At the end of the season, the bottom two teams in each series are automatically relegated. The next two teams have to take part in a play-off match to maintain their place in the division. They have to challenge one of the champions of a series in the division below. The winner of a series is not guaranteed automatic promotion. Based on points and goal difference, only the top 50% of the winners go up straight away. The other 50% have to take part in a play-off match at the ground of one of the teams from the above division. In the lower divisions, though, two teams are automatically relegated and two are automatically promoted.
The order of play is set out by the positions in which each team starts the season. This is the same as the positions in which each team finished, with promoted and relegated teams taking the positions of the teams they replaced. After each team has played once, the fixtures are reversed. This means that a team will play the same opponent in the first and last matches of the season.
League matches are generally played at the weekends, although this can vary between countries.
Each country also has a cup competition that runs midweek. The lowest-ranking3 team in the cup plays the highest-ranking team. This means that the top clubs will get very easy matches at the start of the cup. The lowest-ranking team always plays at home, which is meant to give them a slight advantage. Cup matches can't end as draws, so extra time and penalties may be played.
For teams knocked out of the cup, friendly matches that can be played against any team are also available. Friendly matches come in two flavours: domestic and international. International matches give your players more experience (see below). However, the travelling team has to pay travel costs. The travel costs are always the same, so it costs an English team the same to travel to Wales as it does to Panama. It also takes the same about of time to travel, which may be a comment on the state of Great Britain's motorway network. Friendlies can be played as either normal matches or cup-style matches with no draws. For reasons best known to the programmers, cup-style matches draw more crowds.
A Champions League-style competition has also been introduced for the winners of each country's league and cup competitions. For one week, the teams play a series of knock-out matches against each other, to find the best club side in the world. These matches, the Hattrick Masters, do not affect training.
Midweek matches are important for maintaining the form of players and for training (see below).
Playing a Match
There are two things to sort out in a match: which players to pick and where to play them.
So What About the Players?
Each player has a range of stats that determine how well he'll play. Whereas Championship Manager has dozens of seen and unseen stats, Hattrick only has a few. Instead of being given a rating out of 20, they are assigned one of 20 adjectives. These range from disastrous (1/20) and wretched (2/20) through solid (7/20) to mythical (17/20), magical (18/20) and divine (20/20).
There are eight key skills:
Goalkeeping describes how good they are at catching the ball.
Defending describes how good they are at getting in people's way.
Playmaking describes something which seems to be vital for midfield players, but it's not really that clear what it is.
Winger describes how well they can run down the wing and cross the ball in.
Scoring describes how likely they are to make a goal.
Stamina describes how likely they are to make it through the second half. Stamina can only reach formidable (9/20) at best and usually peaks at excellent (8/20). Stamina is vital for midfield players.
Passing describes, unsurprisingly, how good the players are at passing. For some reason, it doesn't actually matter if none of your players can pass a ball; you can still win lots of matches. Passing is important for attacking football.
Set Pieces describes how good your player is at free kicks, penalties, corners and shooting from a distance.
There are five other stats that have an effect on how a player performs:
Form - This is a very variable stat, as it has more effect than any other on a player's performance. It also changes week by week. If a player plays a match during the week, his form is more likely to improve than not. Form can only reach 'excellent'.
Experience - The more experienced a player is, the less mistakes they will make (in theory). Experienced fowards are more likely to score, especially from penalties. Experience is gained by playing matches. Playing for the national team (see below) gains the most experience, followed by playing cup and league matches and then by international friendlies and domestic friendlies. It is also vital for the team captain.
Leadership - This is only really useful for your team captain. The best leadership rating is 'excellent'.
Honesty - Honesty has its own set of adjective ratings and basically relates to how likely the player is to be sent off. There are six ratings for honesty, from 'infamous' (eg, Ruud van Nistelrooy) to 'saintly' (Gareth Southgate).
Aggressitivity - This is much like honesty, except it also effects how likely the player is to injure the opposition. Its five adjectives run from 'fiery' (Roy Keane) to 'tranquil' (Gary Lineker).
Players also have an agreeability rating. This only comes into force when you are buying or selling a player. Generally squads are meant to react badly when a nasty player (Craig Bellamy) joins or a popular (Ginfranco Zola) player leaves. You know you have a strange squad when they react badly to popular players joining. There is one 'beloved' player in the game; unsurprisingly, he belongs to a team of one of the programmers.
All the skills are added together to come up with a total skills index. This is a number which roughly relates to how good the player is. This is the only stat about an opposition player that you can see.
The final thing that some players have is a speciality. These effect how the players react to certain situations like weather and other players. These situations are known as special events:
Head (eg, Duncan Ferguson) - These are more likely to head the ball than other players. There are great to play when the team also has a good set-piece taker. Forwards with head speciality are also useful when the team has good wingers. Having defenders with heading skills are a good way of countering this.
Technical (eg, Joe Cole) - These are small blokes who can dribble around people. They have an advantage when up against opponents with heading skill. They play worse in the rain and better when it is sunny.
Quick (eg, Michael Owen) - These are the runners of the team. When played on the wing or upfront they can occasionally outrun their opponent to set up and score goals. They play worse if it is wet or it is sunny (yep, both, thats the penality you play for fast blokes).
Powerful (eg, Sol Campbell) - For powerful, read fat. These are big, bulky players who take no prisoners and kick sands in the faces of smaller players. For some reason, the only effect they have is that they play better in wet conditions and worse when it is sunny.
Unpredictable (eg, Paulo Wanchope) - Unpredictable players enjoy a love-hate relationship with the fans. If they have a low defence rating and are played in defence or midfield, they can give the ball away in dangerous positions. However, if they have a good passing rating they can conjure up a defence-splitting pass out of nothing. If they have strong scoring skills, they can occasionally intercept passes and score from them.
It's About the Formation, Not the Players
The formation screen gives a set of drop-down listboxes where you can choose which player you want to play in each position. Every team has to have a goalkeeper, but aside from that the other ten players can play anywhere you want. The only limit is that you can't have more than three players in the same position if you want your players to get training. Under each player there is a listbox that gives individual tactics or repositioning orders to move them to another position.
Inner defender - These are the central defenders whose primary skill is that of defending.
Wing Back - These full-backs combine defending with running down the wing. They need defending and winger skills.
Inner midfielder - These are the key to winning matches. Generally the team with the best midfield creates the most chances and wins the most matches. There are two key skills here, playmaking and stamina. Without good stamina, the playmaking skill can't be fully utilised. Secondary skills such as passing and defending are also important.
Winger - Wingers are basically employed to run up the wing and kick the ball in the vague direction of the goal and hope somebody scores from it. Wingers should have strong winger skills as well as good secondary skills.
Forward - A team has to get on the score sheet to win, and these are the guys who are responsible for that.
You also have to choose five substitutes who can only come on when a player is injured. You can also nominate a captain and a set-piece specialist from your 11 players.
Teams are affected by both their confidence and team spirit. While confidence is affected by results, spirit is affected by confidence and the manager.
In league and cup matches, the manager can choose how seriously the team takes each match. If players are told to play causally, they don't play as well, but their rise in team spirit will mean they play better next match. Conversely, if they are told to play like their lives depended on it, they will perform over the top but it will wreck the team's spirit.
Finally the manager chooses the strategy for the team:
Attack on Wing - Ignore the middle and direct all the attacks sideways. This makes the team vulnerable to attacks down the middle.
Attack down the middle - Just like attack on wing, but the other way round.
Pressing - Your players run around pitch and bully the the opposition off the ball. It may not win many matches, but it will get you draws against stronger teams.
Counter Attack - Your team ignores the midfield and relies just on defenders kicking the ball up to forwards. It works well against very strong teams.
Creative Playing - This makes it more likely that every player on the pitch who has a speciality will use it to score.
If you play certain formations enough, your team gets better at them and not as confused. Teams will never get confused playing with four defenders, four midfielders/wingers and two forwards. The alternative formations are 4-3-3, 5-3-2, 3-5-2, 4-5-1, 3-4-3 and 5-4-1. If a team plays a different formation to these, then the team will generally be confused and disorganised4.
Picking up the Pieces
Some more addicted managers can actually sit and watch the match reports for your team and your friends' teams appear in real time over the 90 minutes. By reading the match reports, you can see which players have been involved in the major incidents of the match. At the end of each half, you are told how much ball possession your team had. This is directly related to your midfield strength and the amount of chances you create. At the end of the report, it will tell you which players on each side have had the best games and which have had the worst. These are based on the star rating (see below) and can be misleading, as it is not unknown for a striker to score seven goals and still have 'a disastrous game'.
Each section of your team (midfield, left defence, right defence, etc) is broken down and given a rating based on the various attributes of the players concerned. By comparing this with your opponents' ratings, you can see where you won and lost out.
Star ratings are the third method of working out what went right or wrong. Each player's performance in their position is given by a star. Players in lower-league teams will get one or two stars a match, while ten and above is an easy picking for better players. Stars tend to reflect how players' primary skills and not their secondary skills affect the team's performance.
Not only can you see how your team performed, but also how your opposition did and what tactics the team and the players used. Managers have access to every match ever played in the game, so it's possible to check up on any opponent in preparation for a match and see what tactics the big boys use.
So I Have My Team, Let's Take on the World!
While a starting team may have a couple of reasonable players with solid skill levels, the rest of them may just as well be Sunday league players. There are three ways to improve the team: buy in players, train your team or raid your youth team.
Before you do that, you should read over the rules onsite and take the licensing test. Once the licence has been passed, your full transfer budget will be opened up to you.
Playing the Market
The transfer market in Hattrick is free of tapping up, Bosmans5 and transfer windows. The system is remarkably simple; it's an auction. A transfer-listed player is put on the market for three days and any other team can bid for him. Sniping, the practice of making one final bid, is not possible because the auction extends for an extra three minutes if a bid is placed within three minutes of the end of the auction.
Players can choose to put a starting price on their player or not. Bids have to be $1,0006 or 2% higher than the previous bid, whichever is the greater.
A bidding war between two or more clubs is paradise for the seller, as the price of the player can skyrocket. The selling team does not get the entire transfer fee. Part of it goes to the player's agent, as players, like their real-life counterparts, have very little to do with setting up the deal. The player's first club gets some money, as does the previous club that the player belonged to.
It costs a little bit of cash to be placed on the transfer list. If a player is not going to sell for more than the cost of listing him, it is better to put him out of his misery and sack him. Sacked players spend the rest of their digital eternity wandering round parks and looking at trees.
Armed with a seemingly large transfer budget and a tempting overdraft, new managers are tempted to splash out on one great player. It is worth looking around the market and comparing the prices of the players before bidding.
Goalkeepers are generally more expensive than other players. Younger players go for much more money than older ones, because they are more trainable.
The Youth Team
You'll never win anything with kids
- Alan Hansen on Manchester United
The youth team is seen by some as a black hole for cash and by others as the centrepiece of the club. Every week you give money to your youth team and the amount you give determines how quickly your youth team improves. Every week you can 'pull' one member of your youth squad. The better your youth team's rating, the better the chance of getting somebody who knows how to play football. Aside from being able to choose a keeper or an outfield player, there is no control over what kind of player you will get. You have three choices with your pulls: play them, sell them or fire them. Sadly, most of the young recruits do not have the skills to perform in professional football and should be fired.
Most managers live for training. Only a few can reach the top echelons, so the sense of achievement that can be felt when you see a player you bought as a snotty 17-year-old sell for millions on his 21st birthday is what keeps players coming back.
Training increases one of the player's skills each week. In general, it only affects certain players. These are the training schemes:
General gives a form boost to all the players who have played a game during the week and a tiny boost to goalkeepers.
Stamina boosts the stamina of every player in your squad. However, it reduces their form slightly. It is best used during the off-season when there are fewer matches.
Set-pieces boosts the set-piece ability of your whole squad.
Defending boosts the defending skill of your defenders and wing backs who played that week. It also gives a tiny boost to the defending skill of everybody else who played.
Scoring boosts the scoring skill of forwards who played that week. Other players get a tiny boost.
Crossing boosts the winger skill of wingers who played that week. Wing-backs receive half of this boost and other players get a tiny boost.
Shooting gives about half the boost of a week's worth of scoring training to all the outfield players who have played that week. It also gives a tiny boost to the set-piece skill of all players.
Short Passes boosts the passing skill of all the midfielders, wingers and forwards who have played a match during the week. Defenders and keepers get a tiny boost.
Playmaking is the most popular training system. It boosts the playmaking skill of inner midfielders who have played. It gives half that boost to wingers and a tiny boost to the other players.
Goalkeeping boosts the goalkeeping skill of the goalkeepers who have played during the week.
Through Passes is the same as short passing, but defenders are trained instead of forwards.
Defensive Positions improves the defending skill of defenders, wingers and midfielders who have played that week. It gives half the boost of defending training.
Wing Attacks improves the winger skills of wingers and forwards.
The training is calculated on Thursday. Every player who has played in a position that qualifies him for training and is not injured receives training. However, if a player plays in two different positions in the league match and the midweek match, it will be the position in the midweek match that determines if they get trained or not. This is because virtual players are sometimes too stupid to cope with having played in two different positions in one week.
The number of players trained a week can vary from two, in the case of a goalkeeping coach, to 18 for managers using through passes or defensive positions schemes with 4-5-1 or 5-4-1 formations. The prices that these players reach on the market are related to how easy they are to train.
At this point we should introduce the coaches. The head coach is also on your playing staff, though he will normally be too old and rubbish to take part in league games. Coaches can be defensively minded, offensively minded or neutral. This affects how the team will play. The coach's leadership skills affect team spirit and his coaching skills affect how quickly he will train. You can convert one of your own players to become a coach. However, unless the player is highly experienced, this costs more than hiring a new coach. The manager can hire up to nine outfield and nine goalkeeping assistant coaches to help out.
Young players are easily trainable. However, as they get older it takes longer and longer to train them. When they get to 30, they start losing their skills as well as their hair.
An 18-year-old player being coached by a solid coach with nine assistant coaches should take about seven weeks to 'pop' between levels in most outfield training schemes. The older the player or the worse the coach, the longer it takes.
Players can be at intermediate levels between skill ratings; these are only evident in changes in the TSI and sometimes in match performance. Experienced managers can tell when players, especially goalkeepers, are ready to 'pop' levels.
Money, That's What I Want
No club can survive without money and there are three main ways of bringing in the cash. Selling players is the first one, but for day-to-day survival, sponsors and supporters need to be bled dry.
It's a Fan Thing
The more successful your club gets and the more goals you score, the more people will come and watch. The home team gets all the cash from league games. This will give you a decent income every two weeks. Cup matches see the money split, with two-thirds going to the home team. Friendly matches are split 50/50, but friendly matches see about a tenth of the crowd.
A starter club's stadium has a capacity of 12,000 fans. New terraces, seats and VIP boxes can be added to boost capacity. The largest stadium in the game holds over 800,000 people! The larger the stadium, the more it costs to maintain.
Supporters can also pay to join your fan club. At the end of each season, they will hopefully renew their subscription.
Club sponsors are the most regular source of income. If you keep winning, the amount of sponsorship grows. At the end of the season, they will also give bonuses depending on finishing position, promotion achieved and whether or not you have the series' top scorer.
Bills and Things
Players' wages are directly calculated from their TSI at the start of each season. Since goalkeepers have vastly exaggerated TSIs, they are often the biggest burden on the wage bill. Players plying their trade abroad cost an extra 20%.
So Why do People Play?
Most people play to win. However, with tens of thousands of teams in each country and only eight teams allowed into the top division, the chances of winning the league are remote. The cup competition is biased to the top clubs so it is difficult for smaller clubs to proceed. A general approach for many managers is to beat their friends, whether that means getting higher in the league, beating them in friendlies or just employing a team of thugs to cripple their players. Developers have cottoned onto this by producing a website which allows you to organise your own cup competitions.
In fact, Hattrick has a very lively development community, ranging from websites that collate and display statistics through stand-alone management software to an extension for the Firefox browser. Match, league, club and player information are all available on XML and developers are well-supported.
The community aspect is a strong draw, with message boards for countries and leagues. Managers can pay to get more features such as more stats and the abilities to post a logo and press releases and to see the faces of your players. You can even pay to get goal updates sent via SMS to your phone.
Many managers are happy to train players up, sell them on and live on the sell-on fees. Other players try to play the market, buying undervalued players and selling them on for a profit straight away.
Everybody wants to rule the world.
- Tears for Fears
There are two international competitions in the world of Hattrick, the World Cup and the U-20 Cup. Both cups run for two seasons, the U-20 cup beginning the season after the World Cup. National team managers are elected by mangers from their country and their reign lasts two seasons.
National coaches can pick anybody of the same nationality to play for them and the donating club gets some of the salary back. Players who play for the national team are free to play for their club as well and get massive amounts of experience. If players get injured playing for their national side, all their wages are paid for.
Let's do Something Silly
Although most people want to reach the top, there are people who just want to be silly. There are teams that are on record losing streaks, going seasons without scoring a goal. Some teams just want to build the largest possible stadium, their teams playing in front of 800,000 mostly empty seats.
With hundreds of thousands of virtual players lurking about and only a limited number of names, managers collect players based on their names. At least one manager collects players with the same last name. Others have teams of former American presidents. These managers will tend to spend their waking hours trawling the transfer market.
A Real Simulation?
Like any virtual world, the rules of Planet Hattrick are simplified. Every country has a number of regions; each region has its own weather conditions. Anticipating these changes of weather can be key to winning or losing. However, each country is treated as its own island in terms of getting to any other. This can be aggravating for challenging friends in neighbouring countries to friendly matches, as you have to pay the same travel costs as you would to play in China.
In Hattrick, it seems like everybody in the world either plays or watches football. Take England for example. It has seven divisions, which means that it has 2389 series, each of which has eight teams - a total of 19,112 teams. On average, these teams may have 22 players in their squads. These means that in England there are 420,464 professional footballers plying their trade. Most of the clubs are guaranteed a 10,000 crowd, if not many more. This means that every weekend, 95,560,000 fans are attending matches. This is nearly double the real population of the country. For countries like Sweden, where the game has many more divisions, this disparity is even more ridiculous.
The Supporter Pack
The supporter pack is the main way that the site itself gets its funding. Managers pay a small fee to unlock extra bonus features, including:
- Being able to put a logo on your team's homepage.
- Having access to a stadium designer to allow you to model the look of your stadium.
- Being able to see the faces of the players.
- Being able to make press releases.
- Giving each player a little one-line biography.
- Being able to bookmark your favourite clubs and players.
- Having a guestbook for your club.
- Being able to join federations, communities of like-minded managers.
- Access to a wider array of statistics.
- Being able to see what prizes and flags (see below) you have collected.
- Having an online notebook.
While the extra statistics may give supporters a slightly better idea of how their team have played, all the other features do not have any influence on the gameplay. They just increase the enjoyment of the game.
It can be argued that in the lower divisions, managers who see a logo on their opposition's homepage will be much more wary of the club. They may even play MoTS7 just to try and beat them. Of course, as fans of Leeds Utd will testify, you cannot buy success. Although most of the best teams have paid for the supporter pack, it does not mean that buying it will make you better.
The Hattrick Shop also sells T-shirts and credits for getting match results via SMS messaging.
The World of Hattrick
The first league to be started was Sweden8. After 11 seasons, the developers introduced Argentina, Germany, Italy, France, England, USA and Spain9. As of February 2006, there are 106 national leagues. There are around 700,000 managers of Hattrick teams.
The largest leagues at the time of writing are Spain, the Netherlands, Germany and Switzerland, with 12 divisions. Argentina and Belgium have 11 divisions. Sweden has ten.
Many managers enjoy flag-collecting. People who have purchased the supporter pack get flags for every country they visit for a friendly match.
The site has been translated into 35 languages with varing degrees of success.
In the world of Hattrick, there are no wars, no disease and every nation gets on with every other nation. From people with a passion about football to people wanting to use it as an exercise in mathematics, there are thousands of people who play Hattrick. Some spend a few minutes a week at the game, some run sites about the game, some people get so engrossed in the transfer market that it becomes an obsession that leads to the break-up of relationships. Some people choose to celebrate their side's promotion instead of getting engaged. Some people even form a group and sing songs about it. It's a funny old game!