With a series as popular as EA’s FIFA franchise, it can be easy to forget that each iteration is still a game, capable of providing dizzying adrenaline highs in online play while also possessing all the flaws we typically associate with the digital form – bugs, glitches, or the occasional server issue. Due to the sheer popularity of FIFA, however, these issues often get magnified, and the fact that the series recently blurred boundaries between the real and digital worlds with a FIFA 17 gambling scandal makes these problems even more significant. Any time players are competing for money or real-world parties are involved, developers are suddenly forced to be even more keen on identifying any glaring shortcomings.
That’s what made the FIFA 17 rubber-banding accusation such a popular news story this year in the first place – while it was obviously frustrating for players who considered themselves competitive during online play, there were a number of pro players whose livelihoods were threatened as well. Essentially, FIFA 17 employs something called “adaptive difficulty”, which calculates momentum and supposedly adjusts the game to be easier for players doing badly and harder for those who are thriving. Eurogamer interviewed FIFA creative director Matt Prior and asked him about the rubber-banding issue, and Prior had this to say:
“No, we’re not cheating. 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.”
While Prior has a point, simply claiming that the developer hasn’t programmed the game to be more lenient with poorly performing players might not be the definitive answer accusers are looking for. It’s true that many competitive online players experience temperamental outbursts where luck or cheating is blamed with no basis, but the rubber-banding issue and the evidence unearthed by those looking into it feels different. Fortunately, Prior explained the game’s system in a bit more depth to clarify:
“There is error in some of the algorithms for traps. 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 can be frustrating at times, but that’s the nature of football.”
Essentially, what Prior is saying is that the game has code in place that assigns error to individual players based on a number of factors, but that these factors never take into account how the player themselves is playing or the situation within the context of an individual game. That defender that missed a tackle and gave an opponent’s Neymar Jr. an easy look at tying the game? They might’ve just been tired.
Of course, it remains to be seen whether or not the FIFA community will accept this explanation as fact. Perception of the game’s fairness is a big deal for FIFA, though, and with the worlds of video games and sports becoming ever closer, maintaining a reputation of legitimacy will become increasingly important moving forward.