Let me set a familiar scene for FIFA Ultimate Team players.
You’re gearing up for a crucial game, maybe it’s the final game of the Champions Weekend and you have an opportunity to move up a rank.
You’re motivating yourself for 20-odd minutes of fierce concentration, feeling assured that your combination of focus at the back and creativity going forward will deliver you that priceless victory.
Then you see the opposition’s team, a dazzling array of icons and Team of the Year cards. It’s a team almost impossible to earn through coins alone. The game’s over before it had even begun. The victory was not priceless after all; it had a price and the opposition paid it.
Herein lies the issue that plagues FIFA’s most popular game mode - spending money to get the best players doesn’t simply help you to reach your goals quicker, it is a necessity to compete at a high level in the game.
In an ideal world, players would be able to compete in a “free” version of Ultimate Team, where packs couldn’t be bought with real money.
However, this is never going to happen; the game makes too much money from players who feel they have to spend to play. If EA were to remove spending, it would be a terrible business decision.
The most effective way to balance the playing field would be a more accurate tuning of the player match system.
Currently, the matchmaking system focuses on your skill rating in order to create fair matchups. When the matchmaking system pairs you against a better team than yours, it’s because their skill rating is lower, balancing player skill with team quality.
Still, that does nothing to nullify the frustration of losing to a player solely because their team is better. Over and over again, non-paying players lose these games purely because their defenders can’t handle, say, prime Zlatan Ibrahimovic or the power and pace of icon Patrick Vieira.
This flashback Zlatan has haunted thousands this year
When you lose a game, it’s far more palatable if you’ve simply lost to the better player, rather than the richer one.
In FIFA 20, therefore, there should be an emphasis on matching players that have both a similar skill rating and a similarly rated team. That way, it’s fair for both those who spend and those who don’t.
Weighted in-game rewards
There should also be a greater emphasis on rewards for in-game achievements. After all, players should be encouraged to actually play the game.
One example of this would be to increase the quality of the packs on offer as rewards for modes such as Division Rivals and Champions Weekend.
Another option would be increasing the number of coins you get for playing and winning a game. At the start of each year, it takes hundreds of matches to afford the likes of Paul Pogba or Sadio Mane.
And what of the draft? It’s a rare online mode where the game is unaffected by how much you’ve spent on your team.
But that doesn’t mean that it isn’t plagued by EA’s emphasis on pay-to-play. Even if you win the whole thing, the rewards are often of less value than the 15,000 coins entry fee. If you want to play regularly, the only sustainable way is to pay your way in.
Not only should the potential rewards be greater for those who have spent their hard-earned coins on their entry fee, but the rewards should increase as the season draws to a close and the players you receive in packs decrease in value.
FIFA under threat?
Konami's announcement that they’ve sealed the exclusive rights to Juventus, plus a host of other big-name partnerships is a definitive sign that PES is getting better and could begin to rival FIFA once more.
If FIFA is to keep its stronghold over the football gaming market, it needs to use Ultimate Team as a reason for players to keep playing, rather than disillusion them and push them towards PES.
It’s their biggest weapon and their most popular game mode for a reason - it’s more challenging than career mode and more personalised than online divisions.
A platform with so many players and so much potential deserves a level playing field.
Do you think FIFA should do more to level the field in FUT? Will it ever be possible to collect the best team without paying? Let us know in the comments below!