Fact check: Did Aaron McHardy admit that momentum exists?


Back in 2012, FIFA’s game play producer, Aaron McHardy, made this interview with FIFAsoccerblog. In the interview, he touched upon the topic of momentum, which at that time was a hot topic in the community. A recurring claim about that interview is that Aaron McHardy admitted that momentum once was part of the game. But what did Aaron McHardy actually say in that interview? Did he say anything, which could be considered evidence supporting that momentum exists in the game today? We decided to investigate.

What is momentum?

Reddit and other forums have been full of claims like the one below over the recent weeks:

“Aaron McHardy admitted it existed in earlier installments of the game. He also said after they got a bad reception they removed it completely and haven’t had anything like that in any FIFA games in years.”
(– Cangaru44 on Reddit)

Before we discus whether Aaron McHardy did confirm, that ‘it’ existed at some point, we need to agree on what we mean by ‘it’. In the quote above, ‘it’ refers to ‘momentum’, which in turn may refer to a number of different ideas about how the game purportedly interferes with the momentum of the game:

  • The game enhancing the naturally present momentum, i.e. giving the leading player or team an additional boost:
    “But you can’t deny that sometimes even after some BS, you stay calm and choose the safest solution, another random BS happens and boom. you concede a goal. Those are more than coincidence don’t you think ?”
  • Artificially introduced winning or losing streaks in order to make you buy more packs:
    “You go on winning streaks, and then once the computer system knows your’re on a good winning streak, it changes so your players all make stupid mistakes, you hit the bar and post over and over, you lose control of your team for example your defenders will purposly open up and let your opponent through and score. When you end up on a losing streak, momentum will change back after you’ve lost so many games then you will start winning again, so your record is pretty much even but not so many games are ever drawn.”
  • The game reversing the naturally present momentum in other to give the trailing team a fair chance:
    “If a better player with more experience keeps winning, and a lesser player with less experience keeps losing, both are gonna get real bored real quick. It’s been proven that the most “entertainment” in multiplayer gaming occurs during the shifts in momentum. These ‘come-back’ mechanics are especially important to EA sports games, because of game modes like FUT that generate so much money.”

What you should notice about the assertions listed above is that they not only are different, but also in some cases mutually exclusive. Enhancing the existing momentum inside a match will not cause any losing steaks. And it certainly won’t improve the likelihood of the trailing team catching up.

If the game enhances the already existing momentum, the better player should win more often and by a larger margin. On the other hand, reversing the existing momentum ought to lead to more even results and ultimately create draws in most cases.

But what did Aaron McHardy actually say about momentum in that interview? Did he confirm any of the assertions mentioned above?

Aaron McHardy’s interview

The interview in question was published on FIFAsoccerblog.com on July 9th 2012. According to the introductory notes on FIFAsoccerblog, the interview was conducted by EA’s then community manager, Romily Broad. The interview was based on a list of questions put together by FIFAsoccerblog.com following that scripting, momentum and handicapping had been the most discussed topics in the community for some time. As for the actual contents of the interview, I decided to transcribe the relevant parts to make it easier to understand what McHardy actually was talking about.

“In terms of what our community perceives momentum as, it’s scripting behavior. It’s kind of this rubber banding logic that they believe is in FIFA, which I can absolutely tell you that it’s not in the gameplay. (…)”

“We build the game so that all of the emergent things which can happen in a real match, i.e. one team catches the flow of the game and starts playing well and the other team get …, that can actually happen organically. We don’t control that. We let that happen. (…) ”

“Now, having said that, I have to admit that on EURO 2008, we did put a system in for momentum. One, that we absolutely turned off the next year, but eh, in FIFA 09 we turned it off. That system did have an effect, and what it was, was an attempt to try and mimic those things, and after that time we came to realize we didn’t want to build it into the game, those emotions I was talking about a minute ago, we didn’t want to build those into the game. We just wanted to leave that blank canvas for you so you could decide how the game plays, and your emotions came to life in the game. But before, we took an attempt as a team to try and mimic that emotion and bring it to the game which is kind of artificial  and in fact why we didn’t like it, because it just wasn’t created.  So we did things like try to detect how well you played and adjust the rate at which you fatigue. And that’s insofar as it went. We really just looked at how well you were successfully linking passes together, how well your team was playing as a whole and basically tried to mimic in terms of if you were playing really well, your team was fired up and you just scored a goal, your guys are happy, then adrenaline would kick in and reduce the rate at which you fatigue, which has a knock off effect, because as you fatigue, your skill attributes are affected. If you are really tired, you don’t control the ball as well, and these things are all present in the game as it is. So, fatigue was one of the things we wanted to manipulate with that, but as I said, next year, we totally disabled that system. The code was still in FIFA 09, but it wasn’t doing anything. After claims that we had this handicapping, which has been going on for years, then next year, we actually deleted the code, so it absolutely is not there.”
(– Aaron McHardy at FIFASoccerblog.com)

Did UEFA EURO 2008 have a momentum feature?

So, McHardy refers to a momentum feature in UEFA EURO 2008, but exactly how did that feature work? As we never tried the game, we decided to consult the UEFA EURO 2008 manual and the official game notes. Both of them deliver additional information about the feature that Aaron McHardy mentions in the interview.

The official game notes describe a feature called “Dynamic Player Ratings”:

“Real-time player ratings change based on actual player performance, simulating the momentum swings of a real season.”

In the manual, you see a momentum bar accompanied by the following description:

“When the momentum is with your team, its overall performance and scoring ability is boosted. Goals and shots on-target help build momentum.”

So, to summarize the above, UEFA EURO 2008 had a feature which would allow the player to ride on the wave of the existing momentum. This feature would neither cause alterations in the momentum nor invoke losing streaks onto people. Rather, it would cause the player who already was in the lead to increase his lead.

And again, please note that the descriptions above are official EA descriptions. It just makes uswonder:  If it really was in the game, then why would they want to keep it a secret now? We really can’t come up with a reasonable answer.

Did Aaron McHardy first admit it, then change his mind when it became controversial?

We have seen a couple of momentum believers claim that Aaron McHardy made a slip of the tongue and then consequentially tried to cover it up afterwards:

“He admitted it existed when there was no controversy. After it became a controversial topic, he tried to claim it was all removed.”
(– Meio33 at Reddit)

For someone who actually listened to the interview, it ought to be obvious that statements like the one from Meio33 quoted above are wrong. The fact is that the interview was made because momentum had become a controversy. Hence, the “admission” clearly didn’t happen before there was a controversy. Also, there was nothing new about his “admission” as everything he said was stated in the game’s manual and game notes. Besides, McHardy didn’t change his mind or try to cover anything up afterwards. Right from the start, he made it absolutely clear that the feature in question was removed the following year.

Cherry picking

We already made it clear why Aaron McHardy’s statements in the interview above doesn’t support the claim that momentum exists today.

First and foremost, the momentum-thing, which was present in UEFA EURO 2008, isn’t the same momentum feature that a lot of people are making allegations over today. UEFA EURO 2008’s momentum feature would not make someone catch up with a lead.

Second, it doesn’t make sense to argue that Aaron McHardy is a credible source of information when he appears to confirm your beliefs, and then dismiss his credibility when he two sentences later rejects your claims. That entire line of arguing is a really bad case of cherry picking, i.e. the fallacy to ignore evidence, which rejects your predefined beliefs, while picking out evidence, which (in your perception) supports it.

Aaron McHardy didn’t lose his mind and say something that he shouldn’t have said, and he didn’t admit to momentum being present in UEFA EURO 2008 after having been put under pressure by the community. He voluntarily shared the information that something else, which by chance also could be referred to as momentum, was present in UEFA EURO 2008. That’s it.

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