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Google Stadia has arrived and if there’s an odd-one-out game in the list of 42 launch titles it’s Football Manager 2020. As far as I can make out, it’s the only game that you’d normally play with mouse and keyboard rather than the dedicated controller that Google Stadia is based around.
That said, Google Stadia can be played from any computer with the Chrome web browser (note: not the mobile browser). So how does Football Manager 2020 fare on Google’s new streaming service? And can you actually play it on a television with the controller?
I’ve spent a few hours testing Stadia with Football Manager 2020. I’ll keep adding to this review as I discover more and get further into the game.
Installing Football Manager 2020 on Google Stadia
If you’re used to playing Football Manager 2020 on a PC, you might be wondering how you buy and install the game on Stadia.
The game must be bought from the Stadia Store, which you can currently only access via the Stadia mobile app or if you have a Stadia controller. At the time of writing it costs £39.99 in the UK.
The important thing to note here is that this buys you the right to play Football Manager 2020 on Stadia alone. You can’t transfer the licence to a PC, Mac or Steam. In some senses that doesn’t really matter, because you can access Stadia from any PC or Mac via the Chrome browser (and the Chrome browser alone), but you won’t be able to play the game offline. So, if you’re used to mammoth FM sessions on trains and planes, Stadia isn’t the platform for you.
In terms of installing the game, there’s nothing to do – you buy the game, it appears on the Stadia home screen and you can start playing instantly. Football Manager updates will, presumably, be rolled out automatically.
However, this locked-down approach has a couple of big implications for Football Manager players. First, there’s no way to import saved games from other platforms, nor export saved games to a PC. It also means there’s no way to download skins or face packs, which might annoy hardcore players.
I was going to praise Stadia for making FM Editor – which allows you to tweak player specs, names etc – available for purchase from the Downloads section, but it turns out this is a cruel trick. When I tried to buy it, the checkout appeared blank. It appears there’s some work to do marrying Google’s and Sports Interactive’s payment systems…
Football Manager 2020 performance on Stadia
Not much has been revealed publicly about the type of performance you can expect from Stadia. On rival streaming services such as Shadow, for example, you get a specific processor spec and graphics card for your virtual system. Google isn’t so up front.
So how does Football Manager perform when you access it through the Chrome browser on a computer? I started a game with the English (National League South/North and above), Spanish, French and German leagues active, and with a large player database. Football Manager 2020 gave this an expected game speed rating of four out of five stars, which bodes well – you’d need a pretty powerful PC to match that.
There’s no serious lag or long waits as you press Continue to advance the game. I’m still bashing through pre-season, so I’ve not seen it with tons of leagues running on the same day, but the game feels snappy and responsive. There’s no detectable lag in any of the menu screens.
The same cannot be said for the 3D match engine. I’ve embedded a video below that shows you footage from a game I played, and it’s pretty typical of the match experience:
You’ll notice the stutters as the corner is taken, the graphics glitch as the goal kick is booted up field and the horrible sound glitch that sounds like a ball being caught in a goalmouth scramble when it’s floating harmlessly in mid-air. It’s by no means unplayable, but it’s not as smooth as I’d like, either.
This is odd, because Football Manager isn’t particularly taxing graphics-wise. I played the 3D shooter, Destiny 2, for about half an hour on Stadia this morning and barely noticed a stutter, yet Football Manager’s matchstick men seem to suffer.
In Google’s defence, this is a pretty similar experience to the match engine in Football Manager 2018 running on the Shadow streaming service mentioned above. I’m not sure if it’s a driver problem or a lack of RAM, but something about the Football Manager match engine doesn’t seem to agree with streaming services.
One other thing to note about playing in the browser – it seems you can’t adjust the screen resolution.
There is the option to adjust the text zoom, which allows you to exploit the pixels on bigger screens, but that can lead to text so small that it’s hard to read.
On my 21in 2,560 x 1,440 monitor, the text defaulted to 125%, which was a little too zoomed-in for my liking:
However, 100% zoom made the text hard to read:
So, I eventually settled at 110%, which provides a good balance between readability and density of text:
Playing on a Chromebook Pixel
Stadia is compatible with Chromebook devices, but this also throws up some problems with the display – especially on Google’s flagship Chromebook Pixel, which has an unusual 3:2 screen aspect ratio.
As I mentioned above, you don’t seem to be able to adjust the screen resolution from within Football Manager and it defaults to a 16:9 widescreen. So if you’re playing on the Pixel, you get black bars at the top and bottom of the screen and it’s more difficult to read the in-game text. Also,
note there is no right-click on Chromebooks, which makes accessing menu options more difficult. (Update: what a Womble. I forgot you could double finger click on the touchpad to get a right click. Thanks to Johnathon in the comments.)
Football Manager 2020 is playable on the Pixel, but it’s a long way from perfect.
Playing Football Manager 2020 with the Stadia controller
Amazingly, it is possible to play Football Manager on a TV screen with the Stadia controller. But I absolutely wouldn’t recommend it.
The game has been adapted so that you can click on menu options by dragging the cursor to different parts of the screen. It is the very definition of clunky.
Just swapping one player for another in the team can take several different button clicks, and takes far longer than it does with mouse and keyboard. Entering text or numbers is a horror show.
If you’re desperate for your Football Manager fix and the controller is all you have available, you could do it. But it would sap almost all of the enjoyment out of the game.
How many active leagues can you play on Stadia?
As we mentioned up top, Google has given very little away about the spec of Stadia. But if you peek into a FM game profile screen, you get the following system information:
127 processors is quite something, although this is likely to be 127 processor threads, rather than actual processors!
So how many leagues can you run on a Stadia instance of Football Manager 2020?
Well, if you start in England and run all the recommended (nine) leagues with a large database of players (41,000), you get an estimated game speed of 4 stars, which is pretty fast:
If you run every league in Europe with a large database (90,000 players), that drops to 1.5 stars:
If you run every league in the world – all 51 of them – with a large database (149,000 players!) then it gives an estimated speed of just half a star:
Does that make the game impossible to run? Far from it. I started a game with every league in the world active this afternoon, and then put myself on holiday for the first season.
It took ten minutes for the initial database set-up to complete (a job that normally only takes a minute or two). I left the machine to run by itself for two hours and it had reached mid-November – about a third of the way through the season – by the time it stopped.
So it would definitely seem possible to play a game with every league in the world active, without it becoming desperately slow.