Tag Archives: Sensible World of Soccer

Elements of Football Management in Software

My recent return to playing Sensible World of Soccer is not just fun. After all, team management has been happening in the football scene for far longer than the software industry has even existed. There is some serious stuff we can learn there.

So after three successful seasons that turned Hibernians (a local team that most people have never even heard of) into a winner of all the major football leagues, I decided to take up managing Partizani Tirana, the team that won the Albanian Premier Division, but that is similarly crap on an international level (at least in the game).

I could have remained managing Hibernians, now a stellar team, for the fourth season. But while it is enjoyable to win, the real challenge (and fun) is in watching people grow; learning their strengths and weaknesses, and putting them in the right formation so that they can work together with synergy. As for the old team, it is my aspiration in all aspects of life to leave things better than I found them, and my old boss certainly didn’t mind decorating his shelves with the trophies I won:


This funny guy is my new boss in the game:


And this is my new team:


I don’t know these guys, and I don’t know how they play. So how can I effectively manage them?

The first thing you need to do to manage a team is to learn their strengths and weaknesses, i.e. what they’re good at, and what they need to improve. So after playing a few matches with this team, I can learn about their skills: who are the fast guys, who have the best ball control, etc.

Everyone can be useful. If one of the attackers is not great at finishing, for instance, he can have a supporting role for the other attacker. The trick is in finding the right role for each team member so that they can be useful to the team.

While you can often make adjustments within the team to address weaknesses, sometimes this is not enough. For instance, with Hibernians, buying a fast midfielder with great ball control gave a great boost to the team. He would support attackers in offensive strategy, run back to help defenders by intercepting opponents, and basically go everywhere to support the functioning of the team.

This midfielder is an example of a playmaker. The playmaker is essentially a visionary, a strategist, and a catalyst for the team to achieve its goals. The playmaker is not necessarily in a leading role. But he is respected because he makes things happen; he brings the team towards success, and also helps it get through the tougher situations.

Software teams are not very different. Developers come from all sorts of backgrounds, and have different skills and comfort zones. The manager who takes the time to learn about their abilities will be in a strong position to allocate his resources where they are best focused.

Playmakers in software are sometimes called catalysts (as in the wonderful anecdote in the Peopleware book). Whether they have a leadership role or not, they play an important part in helping teams to gel, solving complex problems, working on essential infrastructure, and formulating the technological vision of the team.

Managing software teams may be something that appeared over the past few decades, but in many ways it’s not very different from team management in general. Looking at older disciplines such as football allows us to gain insight into management as a whole, and they can very well serve as analogies for what we do in software.

Rediscovering Sensible World of Soccer

Back in the days when I actually had time to play computer games, I was a fan of three main genres: RPG, strategy, and FPS. The sports genre never really captured my interest, with maybe a couple of notable exceptions. One of these was Sensible World of Soccer.


This week I treated myself to playing Sensible World of Soccer ’96/97, which I had bought off GOG.com. Although this is not the classic I grew up playing (which was Sensible World of Soccer ’95/’96 European Championship Edition), it’s practically identical to it: the only noticeable difference is that some players have moved between teams.

Sensible World of Soccer (SWOS) is a game where you can both manage a football team and play football. It offers a great deal of flexibility. If you just want to play football, you can choose all sorts of friendly matches or tournaments to play. On the other hand, if you just want to manage your team, you can do that, and see only the game results. You can both manage the team and control it while playing football games. And you can even do neither: watch a game played by computer-controlled teams.



The management aspect is menu-driven. When you start a career (which lasts a maximum of four seasons), you are given control of every aspect of your team, including organising and training your team, buying and selling players, keeping track of the match schedule, watching the club’s profit/loss, goal statistics, and even watching the progress of various tournaments in the world.


Managing your team alone is complex enough to give the game a great deal of replayability. Each player has a position in which he’s comfortable (e.g. defence, attack, etc). Each player also has a financial value and a set of top skills (e.g. speed, shot power, ball control, etc) denoted by the yellow letters in the screenshot above. It’s not all as easy as it looks, however. A player may thrive or stagnate depending on his position, and his value may change accordingly. Financial value also does not always accurately reflect a player’s skill. So trying out different players in different position is key to forming a functional team.


Other than that, before and during each match, you can refine your team’s formation, allowing you to try different strategies to adapt to demanding situations.


The gameplay itself is incredible fun. You control one player at a time while all the rest move automatically. This is where the player skills pose a challenge: depending on whether your player is good at speed, ball control, passing, or whatever, you may opt to pass the ball, dribble past your opponents, or shoot the ball into the goal. Controlling the ball when shooting is a skill in itself; you usually use the arrows to indicate a direction (e.g. top-right), but you can actually use different key combinations after shooting to give the ball a curved effect or elevation, allowing you to score some pretty spectacular goals.


Once you go beyond the basic skills, you can get creative and have loads of fun, scoring in incredible ways and posing different challenges. For example, instead of just shooting into the goal, you can cross to another player and score with a tackle or header. You can score from a distance, or pass your way around the goalkeeper, and just run in with the ball. Or my personal favourite: get the goalkeeper and defenders to follow you, run the train around for a bit, and then just deposit the ball at the back of the net.


You might want to start with a pretty good team, such as Manchester United or Bayern Munich. But as you get more familiar with the game, it’s a fun challenge to start with a crappy team and buy better players. That allows you to pretty much dominate a league, and give your opponents a beating. For example, the above 12-0 in a typical 3-minute (real time) career game is a pretty nice feat, and a challenge to achieve.

SWOS is a simple game but gives you a world of opportunities to try out. Career games last 3 minutes of real time, but friendlies may be 3, 5, 7 or 10 minutes (you choose the setting). This means you can play the game for just a few minutes, or spend several hours at a time.

If you’re not put off by the dated graphics, and love some genuinely fantastic gameplay, give this game a go.