Since being introduced to the series in 2004, Career Mode has become one of FIFA’s most popular and impressive features. The sheer variety of leagues, players and options provide never-ending entertainment for the series’ many fans, and Career Mode has stood the test of time to succeed where other features failed.

Although early FIFAs contained a smattering of selected leagues from which the user could play friendlies – including, oddly, the remote Malaysian Super League, which was present between FIFA 96 and ’99 – full seasons with any one club were unavailable, and promotions and relegations were non-existent with no more than one division for any given country.

Youth academies in the earliest form in FIFA 07

That all changed for the better in FIFA 2004, when EA introduced Career Mode. The new feature allowed players to take second-tier clubs into the English top-flight, while season-long stays with teams were also improved, even for leagues where promotion/relegation was still impossible.

Over the intervening eight editions, Career Mode has improved and grown to resemble an all-encompassing feature that can keep users engrossed for months. While early installments may not have held attention for more than weeks at a time, recent FIFAs have boasted Career Modes that offer almost endless possibilities.

A variety of leagues – 29 in FIFA 12 – enables users to assemble international squads, signing players from a range of countries as diverse as Denmark, Brazil, Australia and South Korea. Realistic transfer windows in the summer and January – in which other clubs also sign and sell players – keeps things interesting if your team has been eliminated from the national cups, and, league success permitting, qualification to the Champions League (named “Champions Cup” due to FIFA not owning the competition’s rights) or the Euro League are possible for top-flight clubs.

The game’s transfer market, in particular, has blossomed in recent years to allow users to pick from an assortment of free agents, take young players on loan, or browse potential signings who have been transfer-listed by other clubs. This, combined with FIFA 12’s budget allocation feature, allows players to shape squads to their own liking, and is particularly useful for those starting out with lower-league or impoverished clubs – simply by signing free agents and taking players on loan, promotion can often be achieved without spending a single penny on transfer fees.

The introduction of youth academies in FIFA 07 gave fans of the series the ability to scout and sign young talent. Able to pick which positions the scouted players specialise in – such as defence – allowed users to hand-pick the FIFA world’s most suitable youngsters and future stars. Although this feature was removed in subsequent editions, FIFA 12 saw youth academies return with increased scouting options and a bigger youth system capacity.

FIFA’s current, slick Career Mode interface

It has come a long way in the last eight years, but the beauty of Career Mode is that it still has plenty of room for improvement. The ability to upgrade coaches, physios and transfer negotiators – thereby improving the club in general – was present in FIFA 07 but has since been removed. This, along with a “stadium upgrade” feature would improve the series, should EA wish to do so.

Indeed, the company have confirmed a number of additions to Career Mode for FIFA 2013, including audio updates from other matches, an improved transfer system that allows for player-plus-cash offers and the new ability to change clubs mid-season – something that had been impossible in every previous FIFA game.

Perhaps most importantly, however, EA have revealed that FIFA 13 users will be able to simultaneously juggle jobs at club and international level – something lead producer David Rutter calls “the number one fan request”. Players will be able to manage a country through qualifying campaigns, and the size of the job offered depends on both the club you are managing and how successful you have been. Guide Manchester United to the league title and the England gig could be yours; drive Accrington Stanley to the League Two play-offs and Saudi Arabia may come calling.

Says Rutter: “We’ve been asked to put it in for years, but we’ve really been trying to address the fundamentals and make a really solid mode, before laying in other features on top. We feel we’ve done that now, so we’re ready to add internationals. The idea is that it’s a bit of a meta-game, going on alongside the main game. [International mode] has its own set of screens and its own commentary so it looks and feels very different, and obviously we’re supporting the whole gamut of international tournaments.”

Having watched Career Mode become one of FIFA’s most popular features, and a key factor in the game’s success compared to Konami’s Pro Evolution Soccer, EA have predictably – but shamelessly – begun to charge users for the pleasure of using the long-running mode. Whereas previous editions saw virtual “coins” or “points” built up to unlock other leagues, stadiums or mini-features, FIFA 12 saw the introduction of the “Season Ticket”, which cashed in on the popularity of Career Mode and the Creation Centre. As the series has developed, so has the cost for FIFA fans; the price to pay has run parallel with with the increase in realism – virtual coins have been replaced by real ones.

However, with many other additions also in the pipeline, the future looks bright for FIFA’s best feature. The next decade of installments could see Career Mode become almost a game by itself – it is capable of entertaining fans for a year without all FIFA’s other add-ons. That in itself is fine testimony to a feature that has consistently excelled for the best part of a decade.

Images: FIFA 07 Youth Academy – http://guides.gamepressure.com; FIFA 12 Career Mode screenshot – http://www.jcdesignstudio.co.uk

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