As a FIFA player you know the situation: you and your team are comfortably 3-0 up when suddenly nothing works anymore. Passports are no longer arriving. Shots no longer land in the goal, but on the post or in the stands. Defenders prefer to touch each other instead of even getting close to the ball. As if at the push of a button, you lose control of the game from one moment to the next, while everything suddenly happens out of nowhere for the other person. 3: 0 becomes 3: 3 in no time at all. And in the 91st minute, how could it be otherwise, a headed corner ball lands in its own mesh. The blood boils, the controller flies. The frustration breaks out so loudly that even your neighbors shout "Damned momentum!" hears.
Momentum – for years it has been one of the biggest hot topics on the FIFA scene. A nonsense that is discussed much and heatedly. Some firmly believe in its existence, others consider it just a pipe dream that players want to use to create an excuse for defeat. The fault cannot possibly lie with yourself. In this special, we want to take a closer look at the phenomenon that keeps the FIFA community so busy, and clarify: What evidence is there? And what does developer EA Sports actually say about the whole thing?
The first question that needs to be answered for all uninitiated is: What is that, this momentum? At its core, the idea is very simple: an algorithm supposedly works in the background of every FIFA match, which ensures that the course of the game remains as exciting as possible. For example, if you fall behind early on, the AI will boost your players and reduce the ability of the opposing kickers. So while you hit the goal from any position, the goalkeeper and crossbar thwart all attempts by your counterpart. In this way even games can be won in which the difference in quality between the two opponents is actually far too great. Developer EA Sports manipulates the outcome of your game.
According to a 2019 Twitter survey by FUT Economist – once a FIFA Youtuber, now Live Content Producer at EA – around 73 percent of all players believe that a covert script in the background pulls the strings and significantly influences game results. This vote is not necessarily representative of the entire gaming community. With a total of over 30,000 participants, however, it gives at least a rough picture of the mood of many FIFA gamers: They feel mightily ripped off! An absolutely understandable feeling, it should not be the ability of a player that determines victory or defeat, but rather the will of the AI.
The question still remains as to why. What advantage do the creators get from playing around with player performance and thus with results? The magic word in this matter is "commitment". As a game manufacturer, EA Sports naturally has an enormous interest in ensuring that consumers spend as much time as possible with their product. A game experience that is as satisfying as possible is an advantage. Those who start with FIFA as a newcomer will, however, get a lot of trouble in the first online games. After all, you don't know the title and its mechanics that well. With too many defeats in a row, however, you lose interest in the game relatively quickly. So at some point, players put FIFA aside and prefer to turn to a title that is more fun. To prevent this, EA prefers to throw in a few moments of success that keep you going and avoid frustration.
It works the other way around: if you only win, you will eventually lose the fun. A tactically cleverly placed defeat can be exactly the right impetus to spur the player on again. Or maybe even get him to think again about the quality of his team and, in the case of FIFA Ultimate Team, buy a couple of player packs to reinforce.
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EA Sports: It's NOT in the Game
The implementation makes perfect sense from a purely entrepreneurial point of view, even if morally questionable. Nonetheless, developer EA Sports never tires of emphasizing that there is no such thing as momentum in their games. "Many players complain about the momentum. But in truth there is no momentum in the game," explained lead producer Sam Rivera in 2018 on the Pro-Sieben show ran. "It's not about momentum because even Ronaldo doesn't always score. We just create realistic situations and the players mistake that for momentum." And the Twitter channel FIFA Direct Communication also says: "There is no scripting, no handicap, no momentum or similar systems in the game." FIFA is clearly based on the concepts of real football. From a gameplay perspective, there is no need to implement a system that artificially influences the outcome of a game.
It is not surprising that all speculations are so vehemently contradicted. If it were even hinted in some way that in FIFA it is not the better but the happier player who wins, virtual competitions would hardly be taken seriously anymore. The entire professional eSports scene that Electronic Arts has painstakingly built up over the past few years, in which millions of prize, sponsorship and advertising money are played every year, would lose any credibility. It would be like putting weights on the backs of FC Bayern Munich players to make the Bundesliga as exciting as possible.
The eSportspeople themselves are only moderately convinced by the developer statements: Even Mohammed Harkous alias "MoAuba", FIFA eWorld Champion of 2019, made it clear in an interview with Sport1: "I was always of the opinion that there was no such thing, but from year to year Year it becomes harder not to believe in it. " But neither he nor any other member of the FIFA community has any concrete evidence.
Source: PC Games
The patent to shit?
However, there are indications for the existence of momentum, and have been for a long time. In FIFA 06 and 07 there was even a momentum display, integrated in the score graphic: to the right or left of the respective team name, three dots indicated whether the game was tilting more in your direction or that of your opponent. This, in turn, had an impact on the performance and morale of your players. How exactly momentum was gained and what its effects actually looked like was already quite opaque back then – and it didn't really improve later either.
In 2016, for example, Dataminers found further information on the subject of momentum in the code of the PC version of FIFA 17. The game's ini file speaks of "adaptive difficulty", and various simple if / then commands can be found. The game becomes harder or easier as soon as certain requirements are met: If you have an early lead within the first five minutes or a ball possession statistic of over 70 percent, the difficulty is increased. If, at any point, you fall behind or don't get a shot on goal within 30 minutes, the AI becomes a little sloppy. That's the theory. It was only unclear whether the system would only be used offline or also online.
The most current case concerns two patents that Publisher Electronic Arts applied for in 2018 and 2019, respectively. The term "Dynamic Difficulty Adjustment" (DDA for short) appears here for the first time – a mechanism that dynamically changes the difficulty in order to maximize the playing time. The AI adapts to the skills of the player in order to keep the experience challenging and motivating over the long term. On the other hand, frustration and boredom should be avoided, for example through the barely perceptible increase in speed, accuracy or the jumping ability of an in-game character. That sounds damn dodgy, doesn't it? Accordingly, it probably doesn't surprise anyone that the official FIFA forum soon announced: No, DDA is not used in any of the current EA Sports titles. However, there was not much more transparency – even if players vehemently demanded this under the hashtag #ExplainFIFAMomentum.
See you in court!
A US court case that was initiated against Electronic Arts last year could therefore only bring a little more clarity. In a California district court, three players tried the software giant of using technology in the Ultimate Team modes of its sports games that adaptively change difficulty and thus influence results. This way, players are led to believe that their teams are less good than they actually are – which in turn is intended to motivate them to purchase additional player packs. The plaintiffs therefore want to clarify whether EA uses adaptive difficulty or other comparable mechanisms.
The answer from Electronic Arts was of course not long in coming: "We believe that the claims are unfounded and misrepresent our games, and we will defend ourselves," the company told gamesindustry.biz. A final judgment is still pending. In any case, we will stay tuned and follow how the story will develop. Because a company that describes loot boxes as surprise mechanics, and then also aggressively markets them to minors, is certainly not afraid of duping its players in other ways …
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