Imagine that the best players in real life also were the best players in the game – and vice versa. Well, they aren’t, and this evidently confuses a lot of people. Why are virtual players different from their real life alter egos?
“My Messi doesn’t perform anywhere near real life Messi” and “Why does Chelsea use John Terry? He’s only got 34 pace.” Statements like these are not unusual, and it’s not just younger members of the community who occasionally confuse FIFA with reality or express disappointment about the game’s lack of realism. One of the most common complaints about the game is that players, who have been nailed to the bench at one of the EPL’s certain relegation candidates, are in game top performers, or that players, who would be first picks in Barcelona or Chelsea just aren’t that juicy in FIFA.
EA is increasingly successful in making virtual footballers resemble their real life alter egos physically. But compared to the massive advances in graphical realism, EA’s attempts to mimic the actual playing styles of real life footballers seem somewhat half-hearted. Why doesn’t virtual Harry Kane play like real life Harry Kane? And why is it possible for the opponent to beat your defense with a non-rare silver player that you never even heard of?
I believe it comes down to EA’s aspiration to make FIFA a skill game.
Your head on top of a virtual body
The perhaps most accurate way to think of FIFA players is to see them as dumb tools: If you are a poor carpenter, DeWalt’s pro series isn’t going to change that fact, and if you are a pro carpenter, cheap tools won’t pose much of a road block.
If you lack creativity, your Messi will lack it too. If you pull your John Terry out of formation, he won’t make up for his lack of pace through his real life excellent positioning skills. If you are an expert dribbler, a tactical mastermind and possess all the other traits that make great FIFA players better than most, the fact that you are playing with a cheap bronze squad won’t pose much of a road block.
In FIFA, you need to deliver the tactical awareness, the winning spirit, the concentration, the reading of the game and a load of other mental and intellectual qualities. The game itself only delivers an empty shell consisting of potentials like strength, agility, height, pace and of course the basic ability to kick the ball with a fair degree of accuracy in whatever direction you like.
In essence, it’s your head on top of the body of the virtual player. You are the one in charge of releasing those potentials.
Why people expect realism
An interesting question in this debate is why people are surprised that virtual Messi turns into junk in their unskilled hands. One of the reasons is that EA has created a dilemma for themselves by licensing all those leagues and teams. By allowing us to play with virtual footballers, who share the names and faces of real footballers, and who are rated with some roots in reality, EA creates an expectation of realism. And that expectation can’t be met to it’s full extent, because FIFA mainly is a skill game. In a skill game, you want the human players to control the events, and that leaves little room for the virtual players to make a difference.
If EA had gone down the same path as Konami, who failed to license any teams in the beginning, and therefore created teams with names like Man Red, West London Blue, Cataluna and Rekord Meister, they probably would have avoided some of this confusion – and of course sold fewer copies of the game.