Make Your Online Soccer Game More Realistic

Fantasy Football and online soccer management games have been around for years. There’s Soccer Manager, Online Soccer Manager, Trophy Manager and many others.

At the heart of most of these games is the match engine software. This can drive everything from simple abstract playing to detailed kick-by-kick simulations. In all cases, the input is each team with individual player stats plus modifiers due to injuries. Now add formations and style of play, such as aggression to win more tackles but risk yellow or red cards. The match engine takes all of these into consideration, then delivers a realistic score. It has to simulate a full 90 minute match.

These simulations can be very detailed indeed. If you have a player out of position, will the simulation take this into account? What if he’s been caught by photographers in a hotel with someone clearly not his wife the night before? Has he had a row with a teammate?

I used “realistic” before, but perhaps “convincing” is better as we don’t have access to the simulation code. But think of it this way: If the results appear convincing then they must be realistic!

Thanks to a recent joint initiative by an English Premier League team and a sports data team, there’s a new way to bring realism into the games. What if you could get detailed stats for each player in the Premier League, kick by kick, positioning, action, right down to formation and even position in that formation?

The Players

Opta Sports is a firm that’s been collecting sport statistics for nearly 50 years. Now, in a joint initiative with Manchester City, its data is being provided free to anyone. Baseball has had this for years thanks to initiatives by fans, like Retrosheet. It aims to collect data for every game as far back as possible, and make it freely available.

But compared to soccer baseball is a lot easier to measure, ball by ball compared to soccer’s kicks, passes, interceptions and non-stop action. For that reason it’s been expensive to collect soccer statistics. I’m guessing it’s highly labor intensive. So the firms that do this provide it to industry (like print and online media) only for a fee.

The MCFC Analytics initiative is different. It provides two data sets for free. One is a massive CSV file with 10,000+ rows and 185 columns for every player and ball event in each Premier League match during the 2011/2012 season. It’s free, with no catches.

The second set is an XML advanced data set with player, team, event type, minute/second time of event and x/y position. That’s free as well, but only for Man City. However if your project is interesting, the initiative will extend it to the entire Premier League. Now there’s an idea for a Kickstarter project– a full 3D virtual replay of any 2011-2012 Premier League match.

To give you a good idea of what the data sets contain, Opta publishes a list of soccer action definitions.  Understandably, you can’t just download the data. You have to register and describe what you want to do with it. And make sure you read the terms and conditions. But thanks to Opta’s generosity, soccer game developers can tweak their game engines and simulators to play even more like the real matches.

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