The plaintiffs behind a class action lawsuit that alleged EA was secretly adjusting the difficulty of FIFA Ultimate Team to get players to spend more money on packs have withdrawn their case.
On November 2020, three Californians said EA was secretly manipulating them in a lawsuit that revolved around a patented AI technology known as dynamic difficulty adjustment.
Dynamic difficulty adjustment, known more commonly by FIFA players as scripting or momentum, is a technology that unfairly affects the results of matches in a bid to encourage more spending on packs.
While EA has admitted to owning the patent, it has always denied using the tech in Ultimate Team.
Today, EA said the plaintiffs have now dismissed their case after the company shared detailed technical information on FIFA and offered them the chance to speak to their engineers.
Here’s EA’s statement, in which the company vowed never to use dynamic difficulty adjustment in Ultimate Team:
“Ensuring play is fair is critical to all of us at EA, and we’ve tried to be as clear as possible that this commitment applies to us just as much as it does to our players. We’ve publicly said before that we do not use any scripting or ‘Dynamic Difficulty Adjustment’ (DDA) or anything similar that would automatically adjust the difficulty of gameplay in FIFA, Madden and NHL Ultimate Team matches.
“Our clear statements were recently challenged in a lawsuit that alleged we did, in fact, use DDA in Ultimate Team modes. We’re pleased to share that the plaintiffs have now dismissed their case. We provided them with detailed technical information and access to speak with our engineers, all of which confirmed (again) that there is no DDA or scripting in Ultimate Team modes. This is the right result.
“While EA does own a patent for DDA technology, that technology never was in FIFA, Madden or NHL, and never will be. We would not use DDA technology to give players an advantage or disadvantage in online multiplayer modes in any of our games and we absolutely do not have it in FIFA, Madden or NHL.
“EA and the FIFA, Madden and NHL teams remain committed to fair play. You can find out more about our commitment to this in our Positive Play Charter.”
The goal of EA’s Dynamic Difficulty Adjustment patent is “maximising a player’s engagement throughout the entire game”. Here’s an example of how it could work:
“Some other non-limiting examples of features of the video game that can be modified, which may or may not be detectable by the user can include providing extra speed to an in-game character, improving throwing accuracy of an in-game character, improving the distance or height that the in-game character can jump, adjusting the responsiveness of controls, and the like. In some cases, the adjustments may additionally or alternatively include reducing the ability of an in-game character rather than improving the ability of the in-game character. For example, the in-game character may be made faster, but have less shooting accuracy.”
The patent set tongues wagging when it was approved back in 2018, but in truth 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”.
In early 2017, 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.
Back in 2017, I put all this 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 was 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 a 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.”