The FM Portal recently reviewed Blog FM’s review of the FM Genie Scout and it got me to thinking about cheating, specifically why do people feel the need to cheat at Football Manager and the different ways in which that cheating can occur.

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Why do FM’ers cheat?

“In order to preserve your self-respect, it is sometimes necessary to lie and cheat.” – Robert Byrne.

The difference between winning and losing is often quoted (by commentators at least) as being marginal, a single act of brilliance, the ability to take a half-chance or seize upon a mistake and in terms of what makes a victory or a defeat occur they’re probably spot-on. However, in terms of an emotional response, the difference between a victory and a defeat is as obvious as the contrast between black and white, and maybe that’s the primary reason that so many people feel the need to cheat – they don’t like the bitter taste of defeat. It’s understandable to a point, especially if the player has battled away all season to reach a Cup Final only to be undone by a perceived injustice in the form of a dodgy penalty, close offside decision, or last minute smash and grab goal, but Arsenal, for instance, had no choice but to accept the results of both the 2006 Champions League Final and the FA Cup Final of 2001 where they were beaten by late goals after being the equal, if not the better of their opponents. How Arsene Wenger must rue the fact that real-life has no quit and restart option.

Frustration is another reason that is often cited around the FM Community for resorting to cheating. How often have we seen posts that bemoan the fact that someone has begun five careers with Chelsea, yet failed to lead them to glory. Thus, they claim, the game is unplayable and cheating in order to level the playing field is the only way to guarantee any level of success. Cheating allows the frustrated player to remove the hard work from the game, there’s no longer the need to tinker with tactics or scout a player, simply cheat and win. Never mind that the victory was hollow, as long as the Hall of Fame shows the trophy wins, then the ego is suitably massaged. And therein lies another reason for cheating, no likes to be a loser.

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How do FM’ers cheat?

“If you know how to cheat, start now.” – Earl Weaver

Off the top of my head I can think of five ways in which a player can cheat or gain an unfair advantage in Football Manager, the easiest being the Quit and Restart method mentioned above. Basically the player would save his game before any important match and then, when things began to go pear-shaped quit back to the main menu of the game without saving. From there he would reload the game until he got the result he desired. The advantage of this method would be that you guarantee your game turns out the way you would like it to, while the disadvantage would be that constant restarting is time consuming and playing the same game over and over again would surely become boring.

The second method, adding managers, is less time consuming but somewhat more devious. Imagine you want to buy the latest FM Wonderkid who happens to be the missing piece in your tactical jigsaw, unfortunately he’s at Barcelona and they value him at £70m, way out of your price range. What do you do? You could look for a different, cheaper player or you could cheat and create a new manager at Barcelona to sell the player to yourself for a knockdown £50k. And while you’re at it why not buy a reserve team player from your original club for £35m? If you’re going to cheat, may as well make it worth your while. Alternatively, maybe you tried the Quit and Restart method three or four times and had no joy – your next best option is to install a new manager at your opponent and play an odd tactic whereby all the outfield players occupy wing positions, width is set to maximum while passing is concentrated down the middle. That should guarantee you a win. Advantages? You get the player/result/cash boost you desire. Disadvantages? None, as long as you remember to retire the other manager.

There’s also the good old editor that Sports Interactive supply with game. Now I’m not insinuating that everyone using the editor does so in order to cheat, there are many fine people throughout the community who use the editor purely to produce updates or correct errors, but it can certainly be used for that purpose. How? By changing the data in your favour, whether that be through increasing the attributes of the players who start the game at your club, or giving yourself a nice large transfer fund. Anyone planning to use this method to cheat themselves to glory needs to remember that it will only work at the start of a new game. Advantages? Use of the editor guarantees that the game is set up how you want, right from Day 1. Disadvantages? Can you really trust the editor after some of the horror stories about corrupt databases and games that no longer load?

Which brings us nicely around to FM Genie (which ultimately inspired this article) and all the other programs of that ilk that can be used on saved games. Many of the users of these utilities claim that they aren’t cheating and that they only use them because the scouting in FM is so poor (an argument which has surely been rendered obsolete given the overhaul it received for FM07) and the game hands out injuries and suspensions far too often. I’ve never used the utilities personally, so it’s difficult to pass comment but my opinion is that real life managers have to deal with injuries decimating their squad (Newcastle being the prime example, when did they last manage to field their best players?), why should I be any different? Advantages? Bend the game to suit you at any point. Disadvantages? No idea, never used the utilities, but I’m assuming there’s the possibility of your game/database corrupting.

Lastly, we have the creation of training schedules that maximise the increase of ability while keeping the workload to a minimum. A great idea, why pay millions for better players when you can hire a few coaches on £100 per week and get them to train your players into super-humans using the cheat schedules? Whatever floats your boat really, it’s still cheating at the end of the day. Advantages? World-beating players (assuming they have the Potential Ability) without the cost, guaranteed quick attribute development. Disadvantages? Players get injured more often and can suffer burn-out early on in their career (though if you’re predisposed to cheating you’ll probably use a save game editor to get round this).

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The morals of cheating?

There are two ways to play Football Manger (technically three, but I doubt that multi-player at the same computer is widely used), on your own or with a friend/acquaintance over the Internet. The morals of cheating are very different in each of these cases.

“The first and worst of all frauds is to cheat one’s self.” – Pearl Bailey

“No, we don’t cheat. And even if we did, I’d never tell you.” – Tommy Lasorda

Playing as a single player makes cheating a relatively harmless affair, after all the only victims are the AI and your own conscience. Any achievement is false, but so long as you’re happy to accept that then everyone else should be happy for you. The problem occurs when the cheating party joins an Internet fansite and starts to proclaim himself as the greatest FM player ever because he took Wrexham to the Champions League final in five seasons and signed £500m worth of playing talent for a combined total of £10k. And then wonders why people accuse him of cheating. Basically, cheating for the purpose of winning is your business, cheating in order to brag about winning is sad.

“I would prefer even to fail with honour than to win by cheating” – Sophocles

Trust is an important aspect of playing FM-Online, both parties must be sure that the other isn’t cheating, otherwise where’s the point in playing? Surely the online game was developed to enable two like-minded individuals to test their skills against each other on as level a playing field as possible – cheating removes that opportunity and makes the game something of a farce.

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The rights and wrongs of cheating are very much personal opinion, mine being that it achieves nothing other than to remove the challenge from a finely crafted game. Tools such as FM Genie Scout offer ways to cheat that raise the bar from the Quit and Restart option, but ultimately the end result is the same – an advantage gained in order to force a desirable result. If that’s how you want to play that’s fine by me, just don’t make yourself out to be a great manager.