Is there evidence indicating that FIFA is scripted?

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The internet is floating with alleged evidence or even proof of scripting / handicapping / momentum. But how would the alleged evidence work out in the unlikely event that someone were to take EA to court over these allegations? In the follow sections, we take a look at the different types of evidence and explain why we would recommend against legal action.

Video footage

A search for ‘FIFA scripting’ on YouTube will return thousands of results, all of them allegedly proving that scripting exists in the game. But from a scientific / legal perspective, there is no doubt: These clips do not support the claim that EA is manipulating our matches on purpose to pursue some sinister motive.

It’s a fact that weird things happen in FIFA matches from time to time. But logic dictates that the mere fact that something weird happened doesn’t prove that it happened due to a specific cause unless that specific cause also happens to be the only possible cause. And that last requirement is hardly fulfilled in any of these cases.

The fact of the matter is that there are other possible explanations to all those clips. We analyzed some examples here and here. The examples portray events in three different categories:

  • Graphics errors, which accidentally happen to impact the end result of a match
  • Players missing apparently open chances
  • Players conceding silly goals

We have looked at dozens of these clips, and we are yet to come across a clip where the portrayed events can’t be explained by either coincidence, glitches or human error.

EA apparently revealing its inner secrets

The next type of alleged evidence is claims based on actual information from EA, which then is being interpreted into the scripting narrative.

As a representative example, this interview with David Rutter (executive producer on FIFA), has been brought up as evidence in support of the theory that handicapping is present within the game. Below are some of the quotes which have led to that perception:

“We are the definitive simulation of the sport they love, and we’ve done it in a way that I think allows people who aren’t into football to enjoy it too.”

“And so, looking at this year’s game, and how we wanted it to be unpredictable and dramatic…”

“Moving away from the football thing and looking at non-football fans, what they see is this amazing simulation of humans running around kicking a ball of leather, that when they perform an action is executed in a way that makes complete sense.”

“My kids love it, and they’re like… eight and five years old.”

These quotes are perceived as evidence by some people, because they interpret ‘not into football’ as synonymous with not very good at FIFA, while ‘making the game unpredictable and dramatic’ is interpreted as synonymous to making the better player or team lose. Hence, the first quote above becomes a confirmation of EA wanting the game to be enjoyable even for people who aren’t very good at it by making the better player or team lose.

What however is quite clear when you read the full interview and hence the quote in its actual context is that David Rutter isn’t talking about handicapping. First of all, he is responding to a question regarding people who aren’t into football, not people who are bad at FIFA. The entire point of the question is that you may like FIFA without loving football. Second, he isn’t confirming that the game is scripted. In fact, he rejects it further down in the interview.

There are many similar examples of information released by EA which then is being interpreted to fit into the scripting narrative:

A recurring problem with the claims discussed in the articles listed above is cherry picking, i.e. picking the parts that seem to fit into the scripting narrative and ignoring everything that doesn’t.

In general, it makes little sense to present a claim which relies on the very unlikely assumption that EA has revealed something in an interview which they have been denying adamantly on all other occasions. Sorry, but that just doesn’t happen.

Home made experiments

The third type of alleged evidence is an ever-growing list of homemade experiments designed to test or prove scripting, handicapping or something similar.

On the site, we have looked into a variety of studies, which are quite representative to a lot of other examples floating around on the internet:

In most cases, these experiments are made by people who study their own matches and report their feelings and observations in a more or less structured way. If they feel handicapped, that is reported as proof.

If you were in doubt, your personal impressions, gut feelings and whims don’t constitute evidence of anything happening outside in the real world.

Additionally, there are all sorts of other things wrong with these experiments. Data is not recorded systematically, samples are far too small and so on and so on.

Take as an example xtoonator:

He played 30 matches and lost 8. That’s already a completely unacceptable sample size by any standards. He then draws various conclusions about why he lost. He argues that he lost against worse players, but fails to realize that he determines the quality of his opponents using a rating system, which according to its creator isn’t suitable for that purpose. He also argues that he lost against players operating in lower divisions while ignoring the fact that since he was in division 1, he couldn’t test whether it was possible to lose against opponents residing in a higher division, as there aren’t any. And it goes on.

Another noteworthy example is Arlington69, who wrote a whole series of articles based on a fairly large and also well-documented sample of – his own matches. The recurring problem with his experiments is that he compares his actual match results against a fairly unrealistic assumption about how unmanipulated matches should look. For example, he assumes that shots should be distributed evenly between the two halves under normal circumstances, which of course isn’t the case.

At the end of the day, it’s easy to create an experimental design, which to the untrained eye looks convincing, even though it is pure crap from one end to another. None of these designs would pass high school level, and even less college level exams in basic scientific experimental design.

Information from the game’s code base

The last group of evidence in our wrap up is evidence coming directly from the game’s code base. Since you can edit various settings files and access the database files on the PC, it is possible to get some insight into the game’s inner workings. Also, we decided to include the chemistry glitch in this group, because it in a way does reveal something factual about the game’s configuration.

Some examples can be found here:

We would like to discuss the three pieces one by one, as they are quite different by their nature.

The match intensity table

matchintensity
The infamous screen dump from FIFA 11’s database

The match intensity table is a real database table. The game uses the table to look up a “match intensity value” based on the current score difference and current match minute. The table itself doesn’t reveal anything about what that match intensity value is used for.

But, given that it’s a value which depends om the time and the score line, scripting believers have speculated that the table is involved in some kind of artificially invoked momentum shifts, or perhaps, that the table is the reason why you so often concede in the 45th and 90th minute goals, because “it says 45 and 90”.

What does match intensity actually mean? An educated guess would be that it has something to do with the level of excitement (how intense is the match?), which definitely would depend on the score line and the time you are in. Hence, a guess could be that the table controls commentary and crowd behavior, making sure that the commentators and the crows are acting in a way which fits the context of the match.

But this is of course only guessing. The only thing that is completely clear is that absolutely nothing suggests that this table changes the progression of the match. We wouldn’t even call this cherry picking, because there isn’t any information in that table, which supports any of these theories. It’s taken out of thin air.

Adaptive difficulty

The product.ini file is an ini file used by the PC version of FIFA to control various aspects of the game play. When you open the file, you see certain settings and rules related to difficulty. Even a person without technical knowledge can read the file and verify that the game will change the difficulty depending on the score line and in a way where it will try to narrow the lead. If the player is getting beaten, it will reduce the difficulty and vice versa.

And yes, this absolutely happens, and EA admits it openly. But it’s a single player feature, and absolutely nothing indicates that it’s happening in multiplayer matches as well. Logic dictates that the mere fact that EA has applied a technique in one context obviously doesn’t prove that they also are using it somewhere else.

The chemistry glitch

Last but not least, there is the chemistry glitch. When it first was discovered that informs didn’t receive the intended chemistry boosts when adding chem styles, people started speculating that this glitch could be the reason why they sometimes lost despite having the better team. It however didn’t take long before more experiments revealed that this problem wasn’t isolated to informs, but in fact to all non-day 1 cards in the game. Hence, the glitch wouldn’t necessarily disadvantage the player with the better squad, meaning that we essentially were able to reject the claim that this had anything to do with handicapping. It was a simple glitch, and it was fixed later – and people still complain about handicapping.

Concluding comments

What should be clear from the above walk through of just about every piece of alleged evidence ever presented in support of scripting, handicapping and momentum is that there is no evidence!

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