Summing things up: Evidence, counter evidence and better explanations

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There is no doubt that the majority of the FUT community believes that matches are manipulated. They don’t necessarily agree about why it happens or how it influences the game, so this is not one belief but actually a number of different assertions, which share the recurring element that FUT matches somehow are manipulated intentionally.

Did these beliefs originate out of thin air?

No they didn’t. People definitely do see things, which are unfair and often unnatural, and they definitely experience, that the game sometimes is out of their hands. No one who has played the game can disagree to these observations.

Yet, I’m 100 % convinced that the claims about deliberate manipulation are incorrect, and I will show you why in the following sections.

Why I don’t believe in deliberate manipulation

First of all, no evidence suggests they are right. I have checked every single piece of alleged evidence  I could find, and none of it would be acceptable as evidence in court or in science.

Second, the claims doesn’t fit with the actual evidence, or can easily be rejected with reference to logic and common sense:

Third, the presumed rationale behind it doesn’t make sense when you consider it in more detail.

What handicapping really is

What is the actual reason behind these events if it isn’t deliberate manipulation? I believe that it boils down to four things:

  • The large number of goals
  • Coincidence
  • Controllability

The large number of goals

The average goal ratio in FUT matches is 5.5 goals per match. A FUT match lasts 12 real minutes, meaning that FUT’s goal frequency is about 20 times higher than the goal frequency in real football.  There is no doubt that this is fully intentional: Scoring goals is what makes the game entertaining. However, this also has an obvious implication which is quite important to this debate: You cannot increase the goal frequency by 2000 % without making it a lot easier to score than to defend. The main difference between FUT and real football is that it is way harder to defend.

A lot of things can be be explained by this very fundamental observation:

Coincidence

We can’t ignore coincidence, because it plays a much larger role than most people like to believe.

An average player has a 50 / 50 chance of being matched against an opponent who is better. If an average player plays 100 matches, he will of course experience streaks of matches, where he by pure coincidence was matched up against stronger opponent multiple times in a row. Even if we pick a player, who is better than 70 % of his opponents, he will still come up against players who are better than him in multiple, consecutive matches from time to time.

Streaks are an inevitable consequence of coincidence, but in FUT, ELO matchmaking also plays a role. ELO matchmaking ensures that you get increasingly skilled opponents as you progress through the divisions.

If your probability of winning was 90/10 in division 10 and is down to for 20/80 in division 3, you obviously face a higher risk of suffering from losing streaks by then.

Coincidence and ELO matchmaking essentially explain why losing streaks occur.

Controllability

Two things determine the controllability: The accuracy of the visual input you react upon and the control scheme’s ability to transform your input into the desired actions.

As for the visual input, FIFA has a number of issues: Lag, shadows and rain are the most obvious, but the general speed of the game is definitely worth mentioning here as well.

As for the control scheme, there are quite a few situations which are extremely error prone due to the control scheme. Free kicks is just one example. Another example is passing, where the ratio of passes which doesn’t hit the desired player is quite high.

Although you definitely can say that skill is about avoiding to be hit by the shortcomings of the control scheme, most players will recognize that the game very often doesn’t react as intended.

Why people believe it if it isn’t real

Most people trust their intuition, which is fair and natural but also dangerous, because it may lead to misleading conclusions. Psychologists call this cognitive bias:

“A cognitive bias is a pattern of deviation in judgment, whereby inferences about other people and situations may be drawn in an illogical fashion. Individuals create their own “subjective social reality” from their perception of the input. An individual’s construction of social reality, not the objective input, may dictate their behaviour in the social world. Thus, cognitive biases may sometimes lead to perceptual distortion, inaccurate judgment, illogical interpretation, or what is broadly called irrationality.”

Put simple, our mind tricks us into believing things which aren’t true.

A recurrent theme between handicapping, scripting and momentum is the perception that events, which to others appear random and hence natural, are perceived as being non-coincidental and hence part of a deliberate scheme.

The tendency to see patterns in random data is known as apophenia or clustering illusion, meaning the tendency to erroneously consider random ‘streaks’ or ‘clusters’ non-coincidential. A series of bad luck within a match is interpreted as ‘it clearly didn’t want me to win’ and a series of defeats is interpreted as ‘after I purchased coins, EA punished me by putting me on a losing streak’.

Another type of relevant cognitive bias which may be linked to these beliefs is confirmation bias, i.e. the tendency to search for, interpret, or recall information in a way that confirms the existing beliefs. As an example, people tend to remember significant events (last minute goals, last minute misses etc.) as being far more common than they are.

A third type of cognitive bias at play could be optimism bias aka wishful thinking. Most players obviously don’t wish for handicapping to exist, but on the other hand, many players still prefer to believe that their defeats are caused by handicapping rather than their own incapability. In fact, this type of wishful thinking is a common element in many other conspiracy theories.