For years some FIFA players have suspected the game of cheating.
They believe that buried somewhere deep within FIFA’s code is secret scripting that helps players out if they’re losing or makes the game harder when they’re winning. It’s a belief fuelled by frustrating goalkeeper parries that lead to tap-ins, top quality strikers missing open goals and dramatic last-minute equalisers suffered after you’ve dominated a game. The FIFA community calls this alleged scripting “momentum” – and players want EA to own up.
While the “is it real or is it fake?” debate about momentum in FIFA has been on again and off again for years now, it sprang back into life five months ago when a Redditor claimed to have found mention of momentum in the FIFA 17 game files. This sparked a number of FIFA YouTubers to cry foul. There was even a failed petition.
The same Redditor followed up by going into more detail on this code, which appears to reveal an adaptive difficulty that is dependent on things like how many shots you’ve taken, how much possession you enjoy and whether you’ve scored early. The suggestion is that FIFA gets harder the better you do, and easier the worse you do.
What the FIFA community doesn’t know is whether this apparent momentum affects offline play only, online play only, or both. Players, particularly those who play online seasons mode or FUT Champions (the popular Weekend League), want to know if online matches are affected by this, because if they are, fair play would be called into question.
So, armed with this evidence, I put the issue of momentum to FIFA creative director Matt Prior.
“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.”
What Prior is saying here is error is built into FIFA, but there’s no applicable context, such as the time of the match or the score of the match.
“You don’t want some fourth division defender trapping the ball as well as Messi, right?” Prior continued. “A lot of that is then also stat based. Some of it is fatigue based. If a guy is dead on his feet, he’s going to make a mistake. There are lot of things that factor into that that make it happen. But, fundamentally, that’s football.”
So, FIFA isn’t cheating?
“No, we’re not cheating,” Prior responded. “Absolutely not. It might feel like that when you’re on the other end of it. There’s always an excuse! It was skill when you won, cheating when you lost.”
It remains to be seen whether the FIFA community will accept Prior’s explanation for what’s going on under the hood of the world’s most popular sports video game. For those who obsess over FIFA Ultimate Team and pour hundreds of hours into online matches, any hint that the game does not operate on a level playing field will ruin the competition. But next time your superstar defender fails to control the ball in his own box, leading to a last-minute equaliser, maybe check his stats. You never know. He might just be knackered.