It’s a widespread belief among FIFA players that EA secretly manipulates our matches. Is there any truth to these claims or are they pure imagination? In 2015, the FUTfacts team sat out to test these beliefs systematically. In this article, we present our findings and explain why we – despite the adamant claims – find it highly unlikely that scripting, handicapping or momentum exist in any shape.
If you are going to read one article on this site, let this be it.
A short introduction to the scripting, handicapping and momentum beliefs
Hardly a day goes by without another Reddit post claiming the existence of phenomena mostly known as scripting, handicapping and momentum in the FIFA community. But surprisingly, it is difficult to get the hands around the exact meaning of those terms.
Briadly speaking, “scripting” refers to the idea that events are playing out according to a predefined script, i.e. irregardless of player input. “Handicapping” can either refer to the idea that better players are handicapped or that players using better teams are handicapped. “Momentum” typically refers to the perception that matches are manipulated through dynamic intervention, whereby the momentum is shifted from one player to the other.
But even at this broad level, it is apparant that the three terms have different meanings. And as you dig into the deeper layers of those beliefs, it becomes clear that although a lot of people unite around the broader idea that EA manipulates matches, there isn’t a consensus around the alleged motive for doing so or the alleged way matches are manipulated. In fact, there are approximately as many different variations of these beliefs as there are FIFA players. 
Moreover, the differences aren’t merely superficial. A thorough look at some of the specific claims labelled under scripting, handicapping and momentum reveals that many of them are mutually exclusive. One example of this is the idea that the game favours the lesser player versus the idea that it favours the lesser team. Logic dictates that if both claims were correct, the game would occasionally be helping both players. This is, albeit technically possible, unimaginable, as it would involve EA implementing two, mutually undermining concepts.
This lack of consensus of course doesn’t prove that FIFA matches aren’t manipulated, but it delivers a solid blow to the claim that the large number of people who believe in scripting, handicapping or momentum has any bearing on the validity of these ideas. That argument is not only an ad populum fallacy but also factually incorrect.
But even more importantly, our observation demonstrates that these claims didn’t emerge on the basis of solid, systematic observations about how the game behaves and on that basis came to a conclusion. If they did, people probably wouldn’t have arrived at fundamentally different conclusions. In a sense, claims about scripting, handicapping and momentum have a similarity with the reported sightings of the Loch Ness monster: +1,000 eyewitnesses reportedly have seen the monster, although the reports vary heavily in terms of the color, shape and size of the observed animal. So, although it is very likely that these people did see something, their numbers doesn’t make it the least bit more likely that a dinosaur swims in a lake in Scotland.
The state of evidence
People who believe in scripting, handicapping or momentum often claim that their beliefs are backed up by evidence. But so does most conspiracy theorists, and the thing that unites them and also separates them from scientists is how they handle the evidence that doesn’t fit with their theories.
While scientists change their theories according to the facts, conspiracy theorists stick with their theories and ignore the facts that don’t fit in.
That very same tactic is used by proponents of scripting, handicapping and momentum. Even the longest and most thorough posts written by these proponents offer no attention to alternative explanations or contradicting evidence.
Moreover, when we look more thoroughly at the alleged evidence presented by these people, it almost immediately becomes clear that most of it really isn’t evidence.
Since we launched the site, we have analyzed numerous pieces of alleged evidence, and our verdict is clear: So far, we haven’t seen any information, which by normal, scientific standards would be deemed supportive of the idea that FUT matches are manipulated deliberately.
Below, we briefly present various types of alleged experience and explain some of the typical reasons why the alleged evidence fails.
The most conspicuous type of evidence comes in the shape of gameplay videos shared via YouTube and similar channels. We have looked into numerous videos allegedly portraying scripting. But in all honesty, we so far haven’t seen anything which can’t be explained as either bugs or glithes.
While we perhaps can’t rule that EA deliberately made the ball pass through the keeper’s glove, it remains at least as possible that these events simply were the product of software bugs. After all, FIFA is software and 99.9 % of all software has bugs, so why on earth would we assume that these events were the product of deliberate intervention and not plain and simple bugs? 
Home made experiments
Another frequently urring type of alleged evidence is home-made experiments. Typically, people have conducted small, statistical surveys which they interpret as confirmations of something suspicious. We have seen quite a few of these over the years, and have written some quite entertaining reviews. 
If anything, these experiments show how easy it is to produce statistics which in reality is complete and utterly bollocks and yet appears credible to the casual reader.
A typical problem is that people study their own matches, which of course involves a huge risk of influencing the result with your own bias. Another typical problem is using clearly insufficient samples. Last but not least, we have seen some grave examples of studies, where the conclusion was a direct product of observer bias. That type of information of course doesn’t qualify as evidence either.
Information released by EA
A third group of evidence that we have seen repeatedly is information originating from EA, which then is interpreted / edited to fit with the manipulation narrative. This broad category includes pieces of source code, patent applications, academic papers, presentations and even TV ads.
A general problem with this information is that is rests on the unlikely assumption that EA inadvertedly admitted that scripting, momentum and handicapping exists after having denied it for ages.
An old example is the match intensity table.
When you are looking for evidence to support the predefined belief that EA is manipulating your matches, it’s easy to jump to the conclusion that “match intensity” is another word for “team mentality”  or a measure of the game’s momentum bias . This, of course, implies that you ignore the possibility that this table could control something as trivial as crowd volume, which obviously depends on the current score line at a given moment in time.
With the right mix of unacknowledged assumptions, jumping to conclusions and cherry picking it’s possible to make anything appear as evidence. The only problem is that it isn’t.
Some believers support their beliefs by arguing that manipulation neither has been directly proved nor disproved. This line of thinking is both logically flawed and factually incorrect. We do have a massive amount of evidence contradicting core elements of the manipulation narrative.
The by far most widespread idea about EA’s alleged motive to manipulate matches is that they are making the game more accessible to bad players. We have conducted several studies aimed at testing this particular claim. Among other things, we tested five hypotheses about how FUT would look it matches were manipulated as part of a plan to make them more even:
- Leveling matches only makes sense if players aren’t evenly matched. Therefore, we would expect to see players with very different capability levels getting matched up on a regular basis if the above theory is correct.
- The evenness of a match is measured by the goal margin. Therefore, we would expect to see few wins by a large goal margin if the above theory is correct.
- We would expect to see successful players report being subject to more manipulation if the above theory is correct.
- Normally, the goal ratio in a sport determines the likelihood of a match ending as a tie. If matches are made even, we would expect to see many draws relative to the goal ratio.
- We would expect to see the player dominating matches losing them often if the above theory is correct.
And this is what we saw when we tested those hypotheses:
- Skilled players rarely get matched up against bad players. The game uses a number of methods to avoid such matches, including skill based matchmaking.
- Matches are not even. On contrary, result statistics show that large wins are much more common in FUT than in real football.
- Bad players report being subject to manipulation just as often as better players.
- A draw – the most even result of them all – does not happen more often than it ought to in FUT.
- Players who dominate on one or more parameters as good as always end up winning.
With these facts at hand, you need to be either blind or deliberately ignorant to maintain the idea that matches are made even.
Who the believers are
In our survey from late 2017, two characteristics stood out as extremely predominant among the believers who responded to the questionnaire:
- They neither appreciate nor accept that football and hence also FIFA is a fairly random game, meaning that you can lose – and win – because or pure coincidence.
- They tend to attribute their own successes to skill while also attributing their opponent’s success to scripting, handicapping or momentum.
It is fair to conclude that we are dealing with beliefs, which not only are contradicted by evidence, but also are fairly irrational by nature.
So, how come that maybe two thirds of the community members believe the game is manipulated?
Why people believe in manipulation
Experiments made by psychologists studying why people believe in conspiracy theories show that humans have an inherent preference for narratives which attribute a rationale to bad things. Another interesting finding from such experiments is that inducing loss of control triggers people to see nonexistent patterns and evoke conspiratorial explanations.
In a FIFA context, this implies that when we lose more matches than we like (meaning that we are out of control), we have an inherent preference for an explanation saying that it happened because EA manipulated our matches over a narrative saying that we lost because the opponent was better or because we just didn’t have luck on our side.
People don’t believe in scripting, handicapping or momentum because they are stupid or bad people but simply because they are people.
But having said that, attributing your losses to a made up narrative isn’t going to make you a better player. If you want to truly excel in this game, you need to stop thinking that you aren’t at blame when you lose.