A Eulogy for NHL Eastside Hockey Manager
Submitted on: 07/11/2011 by Kelvin Mak
"He was a kind man, a loving man."
It should not have ended the way it did for NHL Eastside Hockey Manager. For what was, and still is, the most realistic managerial game of the sport, EHM should have had a much bigger impact on the hockey gaming scene.
At least, that was the expectation when creator Risto Remes partnered up with Sports Interactive in 2002. (Sports Interactive is the same company that molded Championship Manager/Football Manager into the gold standard of sports-management games.) The idea behind the partnership was to work on a fully fleshed out version of the game after years of releasing it as freeware. But it wasn’t to be, as after EHM 2007 was released, the series ceased development.
Despite not boasting as many features as its cousin Football Manager, EHM 2007 was a great game in its own right. This is the go-to game for any serious hockey-management fan looking to build, and rebuild, dynasties. While EA’s NHL series offers up a great simulation of the on-ice action, EHM 2007 is still where it’s at off of it.
"He offered so much to the world."
To this day, the game still possesses the most realistic trade engine seen in a hockey game. A team can go from being a projected contender during preseason that has gobbled up expensive veterans and their large contracts to a midseason pretender that is looking to offload those same veterans for draft picks at the trade deadline. AI GMs are also savvy enough to consider your team’s positional depth before trying to fleece you in a trade. So if you lack positional depth at some position, they might ask for the moon in a trade because you might need a goaltender, any goaltender. In hindsight, it’s really surprising (or sad, depending on your point of view) how the game nailed the supply and demand of the league’s trade machinations, while four years later, EA’s NHL series is still struggling to find that sweet spot.
Another thing that elevates EHM to the status of must-have for any hockey fan is the game’s database. The game world really is a world, with playable leagues from around the globe. If you wish, you can take control of the local peewee team and work your way up to the big leagues. You can even start your coaching career in Sweden with dreams of coaching the national team. It is entirely possible to play a whole virtual career without ever being in the NHL, if that’s how you want to play it, which just further details the depth present in this game.
"The coroner said he was killed by a hook and a witty repartee on that fateful evening."
So why did it die such an inglorious death in 2007?
The official cause of death, according to Sports Interactive and Sega, the game’s publisher, is that rampant pirating of the game really cut into total sales.
Pardon me, but as the British say, there may just be a hint of bollocks in that response. While piracy may have contributed to the game’s demise, it just seems implausible that it was the death knell. The consensus amongst the EHM community -- and there are many, many stories about how one had never heard of the game until a friend suggested it to him/her on there -- is that poor marketing was what ultimately led to the game’s poor sales. This seems much more reasonable, as the problem perhaps wasn’t so much that too many folks resorted to piracy, it was that the game’s target audience wasn’t even reached in the first place.
Aside from a few instances of being included in a prize pack for some TV giveaway, there was virtually no publicity for EHM anywhere in Canada, arguably the hottest hotbed of hockey. This is a nation where TV executives thought it made sense to televise a five-hour NHL free-agency special on July 1 -- if there are folks in the world who can see the headline "Breaking News: Mark Mancari signs with Canucks for $525,000" and not chuckle with irony, it’s the hockey-obsessed Canadians.
So the Sega marketing team may have missed a key nation when it was mapping out its promotional strategy. And while I don’t know for sure, I’d be very, very surprised if it wasn’t the same case for the hockey states in the US.
(True story, the only reason I found out about the game was because I went onto Sports Interactive’s forums looking for a roster update for Championship Manager.)
"He left the world a better place."
By no means was EHM 2007 a perfect game -- the ability to execute three-team trades were sorely missed, and the 2-D game engine left a lot to be desired -- but the crowning achievement of the game was its ability to capture the excitement of being a GM during those special days on the calendar.
When you play EHM, you get excited every season as February approaches because the wheeling and dealing gets faster, more furious and more bizarre as the clock ticks towards the deadline, just like in real life. The same thing happens on draft day when it becomes a game of brinksmanship. Are other teams onto that diamond in the rough you have your eye on? Would it be a better idea to trade up and take him now? These are decisions you have to make, but you know you won't always make the right call. And so it goes, on and on for as many seasons as you want.
Simply put, EHM is one of those "just one more turn" games where you pull your eyes away from the screen just long enough to notice that it's actually four in the morning -- only the worst realization doesn't hit you until you realize you never actually left your room or put those pair of pants on that have been hanging over your chair for the last 14 hours.
It’s just too bad that too few have enjoyed that type of experience.
Kelvin Mak is the soccer writer here at Operation Sports. Residing in Toronto, Canada, his favo(u)rite sport is -- surprise -- soccer, and he religiously follows the Premier League. You can find him on OS under the user name kelvinmak, or in a bar in Toronto, usually after 2 p.m., under the name Pukey.