Do you remember playing FIFA as a kid and smashing one of your mates with a terrible team, because you were just… well, better?
It may sound strange, but this isn't always the case these days thanks to the presence of scripting technology in the game files of new editions.
Scripting refers to the idea that a line of game code can influence the momentum of a football game if it becomes too one-sided. It unfairly manipulates a match by tweaking certain areas, such as temporarily improving the computer A.I. or changing the difficulty.
Why would scripting exist?
FIFA 06 featured a momentum bar next to the scores, but this was removed from future editions. These dots were thought to affect player performance.
As a company, EA want the average (and below average) FIFA player to buy their packs. Would someone who spends an hour a day on FIFA buy packs if they consistently get SMASHED 6-0 by someone who buys packs and plays for six hours a day?
Not a chance. They'll stop playing as they only have an hour a day to play with and can’t compete with the other gamers. This loss of engagement is exactly what scripting is designed for.
The patented ‘catch up’ mechanics in UFC, FIFA, Madden and all other EA Sports games have never been as evident as they were in FIFA 19. Even sitting comfortably at 3-0 up, you still knew that a load of cheese was headed your way.
Time to use momentum
Here's the thing - momentum actually helps you win… and yes I mean YOU. You've scored a vast array of goals, picked out a variety of improbable passes, and made a load of tackles that should have never really happened. Even the best of us have had the FIFA fakery on our side.
Just like how the pros are good enough to overcome momentum, the less skilled players are bad enough to not be able to take full advantage of it; so when you feel your team winning all the 50-50s and the passes are going exactly where you want them to, it’s your turn to be aggressive.
Honestly, even if EA admitted tomorrow that they utilise scripting, momentum or whatever you want to call it, you would still play the game, buy the packs and carry on as if nothing ever happened… because we are all addicts at the end of the day.
To put it simply, Scripting vs No Scripting comes down to the difference between the UFC and WWE; the difference between a sport where the best competitor usually wins, and one where it doesn’t matter who is better because the outcome is pre-determined. One has drama and ‘moments’ that are manufactured, and the other one does not.
The difference here is that where the WWE embraces the fixed nature of their sport, EA Sports continues to deny scripting’s existence in their games.
Evidence in plain sight
In March 2019, @FUT_economist posed a question to his 94,000 followers on Twitter and garnered over 30,000 votes - with 73 per cent believing that EA Sports' franchise game is actually fixed
If you’re one of those people that denies the existence of scripting or momentum in FIFA (probably because you are in denial about how average you are) then please don't bother commenting, because you have clearly never seen the endless compilation videos that plague YouTube, Twitter and Twitch and Reddit.
In 2012, FIFA producer Aaron Mchardy sat down with a representative from FIFA Soccer blog to answer their questions about scripting on behalf of EA. In the interview he touched upon the topic of momentum.
McHardy said, “I can absolutely say that this [scripting] is not in gameplay”, before pointing out that “some racing games use this ‘rubber banging’ logic to keep races tight, but it’s not something that we do”.
To be honest, I don’t buy a word of this. Defensive corporate language is detectable from a mile off, and the specific racing game example that McHardy used only makes me more suspicious of EA’s behaviour.
Fast forward seven years to June 2019, and EA Sports issued another statement carrying the same message, denying the use of ‘Dynamic Difficulty Adjustments’ in FIFA 19.
“We would never use it to advantage or disadvantage any group of players against another in any of our games” they said, explaining how the technology was designed to explore how they might “help players that are having difficulty in a certain area of a game”.
EA in denial
To be clear, using a dynamic technology to maximise a player’s engagement throughout the entire game sounds an awful lot like the textbook definition of scripting, but EA representatives insist that it is not being used.
I will put on my tinfoil hat here and say that if a momentum system is confirmed to be used in other EA Sports games, then with FIFA Ultimate Team making up 28% of EA’s revenue last year, they would be fools NOT to utilise scripting in their game code.
Furthermore, EA would be shooting themselves in the foot by admitting the use of a technology that drives up user engagement and FUT transactions, so can we really blame them?
I would argue that a lot of the entertainment factor in football is feeling a tangible shift in momentum – knowing that even though you’re 2-0 down in the 70th minute, your team still has a chance to come back.
In spite of the outrage that FIFA fans have expressed for the best part of a past decade, scripting will never be taken out of the game - it is far too important to the American brand's public image and market capitalisation for them to admit its existence and put the rumours to bed.
So for now, it looks like EA’s most infamous scandal will remain a mystery.