For years now, FIFA players have wondered whether the all-conquering football game is cheating them. Some are convinced it is.
The FIFA community calls this “momentum”, or “scripting”. The idea is that under the hood, FIFA creates “dramatic moments” by giving the losing team a helping hand or making life harder for the winning team.
Have you lost inexplicably while playing FIFA? Have you ever conceded an equaliser to an opponent who all of a sudden turns it on in the last second? Do your players decide they’ve had enough for no good reason and run as if they’re stuck in the mud? Most FIFA players – and I include myself in this – will remember times when the game has done something that doesn’t seem fair.
The debate around momentum has bubbled under the surface of the FIFA community for years (earlier this year a redditor claimed to have found mention of momentum in the FIFA 17 game files), but it’s risen to the top with the release of FIFA 18. That’s because of the popularity of a new mode: Squad Battles.
Squad Battles is a player versus computer mode for FIFA Ultimate Team. You take your FUT team and play against other players’ squads, which are controlled by the AI. It’s a great mode for getting FIFA coins, but on higher difficulties it’s pretty tough.
There are lots of players who reckon the computer cheats in Squad Battles in a variety of ways. Whether it’s offside goals or improbable shots, hitting the post repeatedly to inconsistent refereeing decisions, Squad Battles has come under fire for, well, feeling unfair.
Some players reckon the game will make your players pass in the wrong direction, decide the computer will score now and there’s nothing you can do about it, and turn opponent goalkeepers into Superman, all in a bid to create drama.
One exasperated FIFA player issued a lengthy post on the FIFA subreddit documenting evidence of the computer cheating in Squad Battles. The post included links to a whopping 30 clips of supposed AI cheating.
Even the bog standard online competitive modes in FUT have been questioned this year. Just this week a German FIFA streamer called DieHahn found that the traits and specialities of some players were missing when playing online, but returned when playing offline (there’s more on this on the FIFA subreddit). A glitch, or more evidence of FIFA cheating?
Why am I reporting on this now? Overnight there was a minor kerfuffle when a FIFA player took to the EA forum to declare he had “irrefutable proof” that FIFA has a system that helps weaker teams.
This “irrefutable proof” came from the fingertips of a poor old Italian EA customer service rep, who in an online chat apparently confirmed the existence of scripting. Here’s what the Italian customer service chap typed: “Praticamente hanno un sistema che aiuta le squadre piu deboli.”
In English: “They practically have a system that helps weaker teams.”
Perhaps in a bid to pre-empt the post blowing up within the FIFA community, an EA community manager called Aiden stepped in to categorically deny any scripting or momentum exists within the game. Here’s his post, in its entirety:
“Thanks for raising this. I can assure you that the Advisor was mistaken in this instance. There is no system in place to make teams perform better or worse like this suggests.
“What you’ve asked the Advisor is not something that our customer support Advisors have insight into at that level. Our development team, who absolutely do have that insight, have answered this question several times in the past and plainly stated that it does not exist in game.
“We build the game to try and give the best representation we can of real football, where things like poor touches or poor shots do exist. Sometimes when these go against you it can feel like the game is playing against you or trying to make you lose. That is not the case, it’s simply that similar things can happen in FIFA that happen in the real world game.
“In real football you get big players missing shots, bottling it on penalties making bad passes etc and those can happen in FIFA too. We do not control that when it comes to who you are, what players you are using or what team you have which is what “scripting” or “momentum” suggest. The game plays out the way it plays out, we do not control how that happens.
“To add to that, we are very sensitive to this issue, we love that FIFA is a competitive game and embrace it as such. Us manipulating the game would completely detract from that and would go against everything that we stand for and everything that we want for the game.”
It’s a pretty strong statement, and echoes similar comments made by FIFA developers when asked about the issue in the press. Back in June I asked FIFA creative director Matt Prior about scripting, and he denied it exists.
“It’s something we often get asked,” Prior said. “Is there something in there that scripts things? I can assure you there absolutely isn’t. It is just football. That kind of thing happens in football.”
Prior said that FIFA does, however, contain the potential for player error. But rather than this being the result of some overarching momentum, it’s based on an individual player’s statistics and other factors, such as their fatigue.
“There is error in some of the algorithms for traps [trapping the ball],” Prior said. “That’s in-built throughout the game, but that’s all measured on an individual level. It doesn’t take into account, oh, this is 1-0 in the 90th minute, let’s give this guy more error. It’s very much individual. And as a result it can happen at any time. That’s part of the beauty of the sport. That can be frustrating at times, but that’s the nature of football.
“I’m a Man City fan. Last City game I watched us have 80 per cent possession. Boro just nicked it, went down the other end, their first shot of the game, goal. To me, that’s frustrating. If I was to have that in FIFA there might be the expectation that that’s scripted. But the reality of it is, there are errors in football and that just makes football what it is. If everything was predictable and uniform and all the rest of it, you’d take some of the heart and soul out of football. We represent the real world sport and you get that in both our game and the real world sport.”
So why does this issue keep on popping up within the FIFA community? A lack of transparency on the part of EA Sports about the way FIFA works doesn’t help. While players have worked out all sorts about the mechanics of the game, there is still a great deal we do not know about how FIFA determines what happens on the pitch. For FUT players who spend countless hours fussing over the statistics of their players, that’s frustrating.
I can understand why EA would want to keep its cards close to its chest on this stuff – pull the curtain back too far and the magic of virtual football starts to look like what it really is: levers and pulleys simulating an illusion. But still, a little more transparency about how FIFA works would go a long way to helping address the many conspiracy theories that revolve around the biggest sports video game on earth.
Meanwhile, the debate rages on. Back on the EA forum, a clearly fed up Aiden locked the thread, declaring: “I’m going to close this discussion as there really isn’t many more ways I can tell you that these things do not exist in the game. We’re going to end up going in circles while there are people on the board that still need assistance with issues.
“Scripting, momentum or handicap – however you want to describe it, does not exist in FIFA.”