What scripting really is

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FIFA is a frustrating game. Most players have lost matches by 90th minute goals, seen defenders stumble over each other allowing the opponent to score easily, seen a defender move away from an attacker and so on. All these things are very real, but why do they happen?

It is no secret, that I find the entire notion of scripting extremely unlikely. Nevertheless, I fully recognize the existence of the events mentioned above. I just don’t believe they happen due to scripting or handicapping, i.e. that EA actually intervenes deliberately in our matches.  So, what’s the true story behind these annoying events, which over and over again lead to obnoxious defeats?

My own hypothesis

My own hypothesis is that those events first and foremost happen because FIFA in a nutshell is meant to entertain.

The starting point of my hypothesis is the observation that the goal frequency in FUT is extremely high compared to the match duration. An average FUT 15 match lasts 12 minutes and contains around 4 – 5.5 goals (depending on whether you are playing seasons or friendlies). A real football match contains about 2.6 goals and lasts 90 minutes. In a direct comparison, goals are scored 10 times more often in FUT than in real football.

While the average Bundesliga defense is able to keep their opponents away from scoring an hour at a time, the average FUT defense allows a goal every 5 minutes. You can say that the power balance between defenders and strikers is very different in FUT:

If football was fought between knights armed with swords and shields, FUT would be fought between knights with normal size swords but shields about the size of a a can of Coke.

What makes defenders ineffective?

What makes it easier to score goals in FIFA? In my perception, multiple, more or less intentional factors contribute.

The first factor is speed. FIFA is an extremely fast game, and in particular when it comes to direction changes, passes and shots.

The second factor is that FIFA’s control scheme supports attacking better than defending.

Defending is by nature about coordination and organisation. When defending, the players need to position themselves in a coordinated way in order to (1) utilize the offside rule, (2) act as back up for each other and (3) mark opposing players and areas effectively. In FIFA however, you just control one defensive player at a time, meaning that you are heavily reliant on the AI to ensure coordination with the remaining players. And let’s face it: Even though it has become better over the years, the AI still does a lot of stupid things. On top of that, there is an important thing to notice: Since the AI-controlled players do very little on their own, player switching is a key aspect of defending, but also a very difficult thing to master due to the control scheme. Manual controlling is quite difficult to pull off, and semi-auto does not always work out as you planned.

Attacking in FIFA is less reliant on coordination. Although you may choose to play organized attacking football, there is no need to in FIFA, because you are playing against a badly organized and un-coordinated opponent and because you are controlling a player who can run and switch direction extremely fast. An effective way to score is essentially to dribble through the defense (kick off glitch goals and goals scored by cutting in from the flank are brilliant examples). On top of that, lack of coordination in attack is way less disastrous than lack of coordination when defending. Worst case, a player will miss an open run opportunity or perhaps he won’t move into position. If you are smart, you just wait until he does run into position. Thus, the control scheme essentially supports the attacking side better, because you are able to succeed even with a low level of coordination and by just controlling one player at a time.

The inevitable outcome of the above is that you will concede – and score – lots of goals.

Why EA made it easy to score

Why did EA make it easy to score? Quite simply because the game wouldn’t be entertaining if they didn’t. In the nineties, I spend a lot of time playing Kick Off 2 on the Amiga 500. Unlike FIFA, the game allowed you to change the match length to 2×45 minutes. I remember having done it once, and it took me less than 20 minutes to get bored. I have played at least fifteen different football games, and none of them had a default match length of 90 minutes. In fact, most of them didn’t even allow you to set the half length differently.

Kick Off 2 - A Commodore Amiga classic
Kick Off 2 – A Commodore Amiga classic

Most players wouldn’t have the patience to play 90 minutes matches, or for that matter wait an hour before scoring their next goal. Consequently, game designers need to make matches shorter and goals more frequent.

If you reduce the match duration, you also need to increase the goal frequency. The only way to increase the goal frequency is to set the power balance between defenders and strikers or in essence make defenders stupid and strikers fast.

Not a word about scripting

I’m not claiming that anything I have written in this post disproves the existence of scripting and handicapping, but on the other hand, it is pretty clear that most of the events reported by scripting and handicapping believers are natural consequences of the observations I have made above. A couple of examples:

  • 90th minute goals: Are a natural product of the increased goal ratio
  • The better player losing: Is a natural product of the gaming being more random due to high speed
  • Stupid goals being scored: Are a natural product of the control scheme, the speed and so on
  • Defenders moving away from the striker: Typically because you move the wrong player due to player switching inaccuracy.