Fact check: Is an EA paper on Dynamic Difficulty Adjustment evidence that DDA is in FUT?


EA recently patented a concept called Dynamic Difficulty Adjustment. Is it evidence that scripting is real or is it something else?

In a recent Reddit post, a research paper written by a team of EA employees was brought into the search light of the community. The paper, titled ‘Dynamic Difficulty Adjustment for Maximized Engagement in Digital Games’, presents a new approach to dynamic difficulty balancing, which we already discussed several times here on the blog [1][2][3].

The aforementioned Reddit post raises the question whether Dynamic Difficulty Adjustment perhaps is used in online game modes:

“It doesn’t say explicitly that this methodology applies to FIFA, or whether it only affects certain modes – but a lot of it is consistent with my own experience and that of others.”
(– WalrusFIFA on Reddit)

Not surprising, the basic notion that Dynamic Difficulty Adjustment exists somewhere in the EA universe immediately nurtured several other ideas: That Dynamic Difficulty Adjustment is used in FIFA, that it is used in multiplayer game modes and that Dynamic Difficulty Adjustment is the true reason behind claims about scripting, handicapping and momentum.

As usual, we do the fact checking.

What is Dynamic Difficulty Adjustment?

Dynamic Difficulty Adjustment is a technique for adapting a game to make it easier or harder. Typically, the game difficulty will be adjusted once undesirable player states (e.g., boredom or frustration) are observed. In the article, the authors describe a particular Dynamic Difficulty Adjustment concept which serves the aim of maximizing a player’s engagement, i.e. make players play more by ensuring that they neither get bored nor frustrated.

The paper describes the results of EA’s own research into the effects of this particular concept. EA has tested the concept on a group of players while other players were used as a reference group, thus allowing EA to measure the effects of Dynamic Difficulty Adjustment on player engagement. And just to make it clear: EA tested the concept on a mobile match-three game. The article doesn’t mention FIFA in one word.

According to the article, the result was a 9 % increase in player engagement.

Is Dynamic Difficulty Adjustment a money machine?

In the community, it’s the perception that EA is all about the money. This might be somewhat correct, but Dynamic Difficulty Adjustment isn’t a money machine. In fact, the Dynamic Difficulty Adjustment concept implemented by EA didn’t generate extra revenue:

“Last but not least, we also compared the impact on monetization between the control and the treatment groups. This comparison is critical as a monetization objective might contradict engagement maximization. Our Dynamic Difficulty Adjustment treatment group had a neutral impact on monetization. No statistically significant difference on in-game transaction revenues was observed between two groups.”
(– Dynamic Difficulty Adjustment for Maximized Engagement in Digital Games, page 470)

So, why would EA bother to implement a concept like Dynamic Difficulty Adjustment? As already mentioned, player engagement is a fully viable motive in itself. A franchise like the FIFA series depends on people buying the game again and again. If people get bored after a few weeks, the risk that they won’t buy next year’s edition increases drastically. So for that reason alone, it might be worth pursuing technologies that deliver extra player engagement even if they don’t deliver extra revenue from micro transactions.

Would it make sense to use Dynamic Difficulty Adjustment in FIFA?

Dynamic Difficulty Adjustment makes sense in a lot of games. As a consumer, I like appealing games. There is nothing worse than having spend €100 on a game that isn’t fun after 2 hours.

In addition to that, EA must have invested a considerable amount in developing and patenting of their new Dynamic Difficulty Adjustment concept.

So why not use this brilliant, new engagement optimization concept in FIFA?

And, following that apparently rhetorical question, is it possible that they have used it already for several years, and could this be the reason why people over the years have been complaining about matches being allegedly manipulated?

For multiple reasons, the answer is a clear NO.

Is Dynamic Difficulty Adjustment used in FIFA?

It is likely beyond any real doubt that FIFA uses a similar concept, Adaptive Difficulty, in certain offline game modes. We have seen various code snippets carefully dug out of encrypted settings files suggesting this. On top of that, the game has dialogues which explicitly state that “the difficulty level will be auto-adjusted”, as per the picture above.

This is however single player FIFA. And there is a fundamental difference between single player and multiplayer FIFA when it comes to controlling the difficulty.

In a game where the predominant difficulty factor is the capability level of the opponent, it is difficult for a game developer to actively change the balance between the players. Unlike games like Battlefield 1, EA can’t all of a sudden bring in extra equipment on the losing side. And they can’t all of a sudden bring in a UFO to steal the ball or tilt the pitch.

So, the best way to make sure competitive matches in a multiplayer football game is through the match making concept. And, as we talk about in another article, EA did in fact patent a new matchmaking concept – Engagement Optimized Matchmaking – on the very same date that they patented Dynamic Difficulty Adjustment.

Engagement Optimized Matchmaking, unlike Dynamic Difficulty Adjustment, would make every bit of sense in FIFA, and when you read the research paper on Engagement Optimized Matchmaking, it is quite likely that the empirical basis of said paper is simulations run on FIFA!

The lack of conceptual fit between Dynamic Difficulty Adjustment and multiplayer FIFA is however not the most important reason to reject the notion that Dynamic Difficulty Adjustment equals scripting:

  • Empirically speaking, we can reject the notion that matches are being leveled. We have tested this theory in multiple ways, and nothing indicates that matches are being made level in the way that they would if there was a match leveling mechanism like Dynamic Difficulty Adjustment.
  • Dynamic Difficulty Adjustment is an engagement optimization concept. It’s meant to cause less frustration and less boredom. If EA implemented and found that it nourished the kind of frustrations surrounding the scripting debate, it would make absolutely no sense to keep it in the game as it would be directly counter productive.

12 thoughts on “Fact check: Is an EA paper on Dynamic Difficulty Adjustment evidence that DDA is in FUT?

  • 2017-11-06 at 12:47

    There you go again!!! Stop defending the game when it is more obvious than ever it has scripting in it. Everyday i type in fifa scripting and more and more people are noticing it. YOU ARE PATHETIC!!!!

    • 2017-11-06 at 13:02

      Like I said previously, if there is evidence indicating that I’m wrong here, then by all means bring it up.

      • 2017-11-25 at 13:44

        You are blatantly wrong.

        This is EA’s definition of the term “player engagement” taken directly from their EOMM paper:

        “Player engagement can be seen as an objective measurement of user experience in games [6]. Player engagement can be embodied by many specific metrics, such as time or money spent in the game”

        In other words after reviewing both the EOMM and the dynamic difficulty papers we can see clearly EA’s stance on the matter: it’s ok to rig gameplay and matchmaking in order to promote money spending behaviors.

        • 2017-11-25 at 15:41

          Am I?

          First of all, the mere fact that EA has a definition of player engagement doesn’t lead to the conclusion that they think it’s okay to rig the game play. That claim is pure nonsense.

          Second, *no one* denies that FIFA makes use of dynamic/adaptive difficulty. We have very strong evidence supporting the assertion that it is used in certain parts of FIFA, and perhaps most notably the fact that the game contains a dialogue telling it openly. However, that just doesn’t lead us to conclude thst the events which guys like you have dubbed scripting in fact are caused by adaptive difficulty. As for the assertion that dynamic difficulty is used in FUT, the fact remains that we have absolutely no evidence suggesting that it is and very strong evidence suggesting that it isn’t.

          • 2017-11-25 at 16:20

            I mentioned the definition of “player engagement” because even though you seem to have read the papers you blatantly lied about it. It is very clear that “player engagement” is closely connected to how much money players spend within the game.

            So the dynamic difficulty paper mentions this:

            “Embodiments of the present disclosure can be used to modify various aspects of game state of a video game, which may or may not affect the difficulty level of the video game. For example, in a game where weapons are randomly dropped, if it is determined that a user prefers to play a game using a particular in-game weapon, the game may be adjusted to present the preferred weapon to the user more frequently. In some cases, such as when all weapons are evenly balanced, the type of weapon dropped may not impact the difficulty of the video game and thus, such an adjustment may be based on user play styles or preferences rather than difficulty level preferences. Some other non-limiting examples of features of the video game that can be modified, which may or may not be detectable by the user can include providing extra speed to an in-game character, improving throwing accuracy of an in-game character, improving the distance or height that the in-game character can jump, adjusting the responsiveness of controls, and the like. In some cases, the adjustments may additionally or alternatively include reducing the ability of an in-game character rather than improving the ability of the in-game character. For example, the in-game character may be made faster, but have less shooting accuracy.”

            This literally says that they are rigging the gameplay.

            As mentioned in the paper EA included this in several games and planned to roll this out in other games too. Now by reading the above paragraph you do not recognize patterns in the FUT gameplay well then apparently your perception of gameplay status might be just really bad. Go on in forums of the community and you will see multiple posts (even older posts before this paper was published) describing exactly what this paper mentions.

          • 2017-11-25 at 16:45

            You are massively jumping to conclusions.

            It’s bleeding obvious that “player engagement” is closely connected to how much money players spend within the game. It doesn’t take a lot of brains to figure that out. But that observation alone just doesn’t lead to the conclusion that (1) FIFA or any particular game modes inside it makes use of adaptive difficulty to enhance player engagement, or (2) that AD is the reason behind the events which you attribute to the game being rigged.

            While I consider it extremely likely that certain offline modes use AD (career mode and kick off), evidence just doesn’t support the idea that AD is used to enhance player engagement in FUT. If AD was being used in FUT, we would see an unnatural amount of even matches. But this is something we can test (which we did) and we didn’t find any irregularities.

            Also, you claim that your experiences with the game fit with the assertion that FUT uses AD.

            First of all, that claim has one major flaw: The reason why you and a load of other people in the community are ranting about the game is that it frustrates you. AD is about making people more inclined to play the game which is the exact opposite of making them frustrated. So, either it’s a poorly implemented AD concept it isn’t AD!

            Second, the mere fact that you have experiences which appear to fit somewhat with a particular assertion doesn’t lead to the conclusion that said assertion is correct. In this case, please note that your experiences fit even better with other explanations.

          • 2017-11-25 at 17:21

            Right. Something you tested and you did not find anything. Are you kidding me? Given your track record It’s like relying to a chemical manufacturer to test that their product is safe for use. Of course they are gonna tell you that! What a joke of an argument…

            At least if you want to continue doing PR work for EA and FIFA change Alias to have a fresh start. You have burned this one already.

          • 2017-11-25 at 17:34

            Let’s forget that we in fac do write critical articles about EA and assume that we in fact were EA shills. How would that make us wrong?

            The tests we ran can be repeated by anyone who bother making the effort. If our conclusions really were wrong, then how come that no one has been able to run the same experiment and arrive at the opposite conclusion?

            And how come there isn’t any other sort of evidence suggesting that we not only could be but mostly likely are wrong?

            The numbers speak for themselves:

          • 2017-11-25 at 17:42

            Let’s for a second forget that we in fact do write critical articles by EA here on the blog. How would that make us wrong?

            The link below describes the experiment we ran to test if matches were being made even. Anyone can repeat it. It’s a fully reproducable study. Yet, no one has falsified our conclusions.

            Even if we were EA shills, our conclusion would still be based on a solid, well documented experiments.


            Feel free to prove us wrong.

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