FUT matches are not manipulated


A lot of FIFA players believe that EA secretly manipulates FUT matches. In 2015, we sat out to investigate these beliefs by letting all the evidence we could get our hands on undergo a thorough investigation. In this article, we summarize our findings and explain why we find it highly unlikely that scripting, handicapping or momentum exists and why it is correct to categorized these beliefs as conspiracy theories.

A short introduction to the scripting, handicapping and momentum beliefs

Hardly a day goes by without a Reddit post making references to scripting, handicapping and momentum. The common denominator between the three terms is the broader notion that FUT matches are manipulated. “Scripting” suggests that events are playing out according to a predefined script and hence irregardless of player input. “Handicapping” either refers to the idea that better players are handicapped or that players using better teams are handicapped. “Momentum” is similar to handicapping, but with the difference that matches allegedly are manipulated dynamically as the momentum is switched from one team to another.

Although many players believe in the broader notion of FUT being manipulated, there isn’t a consensus around how and why EA manipulates the game. A dive into the deeper layers reveals a myriad of different and sometimes mutually exclusive beliefs. [1]

The manipulation tree

The fact that people have all these different beliefs tells something important about the origin of these beliefs. To understand why, think about the Loch Ness monster. More than 1,000 eyewitnesses claim to have seen the monster, but their accounts vary greatly in terms of the color, size and shape of the animal.[2] Obviously, some of these accounts bust be wrong. In the same way, it cannot both be true that EA handicaps better players and that EA handicaps players using a better team. Sometimes, the player with the better team isn’t the better player.

The fact that people have all these different beliefs tells us that they didn’t arrive there through facts and systematic observations. People who study the same facts normally don’t reach different conclusions.

An agnostic assessment of the state of evidence

Believers typically claim that there is factual evidence supporting their beliefs. But one of the things that separate scientific theories from conspiracy theories is that scientists start with facts, and try to find a theory that fits the facts. Conspiracy theorists will start with a theory, and try to find facts that fit the theory; ignoring facts that don’t.

While it is true that a lot of facts potentially could fit into the narrative that FUT is manipulated, the real concern should be whether there are facts that don’t fit. We are yet to come by a manipulation believer who claim to have arrived at this conclusion after having weighed the evidence for and against. Even in the longest posts written by believers, contradicting facts and alternative explanations are offered no space at all.[30][31]

Since we launched the site, we have seen a lot of evidence presented in support of the assertion that FUT is manipulated. We have analyzed as much of it as we possibly could, and to summarize our findings, we so far haven’t seen evidence suggesting that FUT is manipulated. None of the information we have seen would qualify as evidence in a scientific context. Below, we briefly present various types of alleged experience and explain some of the recurring reasons to refute it.

Video evidence

The most conspicuous type of evidence comes in the shape of game play videos shared via YouTube, Twitch or similar channels. We have looked into numerous YouTube videos allegedly portraying evidence. A lot of them show bugs and glitches deciding a match, and while EA of course is at blame for building a faulty game, it’s hard to defend the claim that the mere existence of bugs and glitches proves that the game is manipulated on purpose. While we can’t rule that the ball was allowed to pass through the keeper’s hand or changed course due to scripting, we cannot rule out the option that these events simply were the product of software bugs. Therefore, their mere existence doesn’t work as evidence.[4]

Home made experiments

Another recurring 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. [5][6][7][8][29]

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.

There are few positive things to say about these experiments, as they fail on just about all parameters of scientific method. 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 sample size. Last but not least, we have seen some grave examples of biased studies.

Information released by EA

A third group of evidence is information originating from EA, which then is interpreted or edited into the manipulation narrative. This broad category includes pieces of source code, patent applications, academic papers, presentations and even TV ads.[9][10][11][12][23][24][25][26][32]

A recurring problem with this information is that is rests on the assumption that EA suddenly admitted that scripting, momentum and handicapping exists after having denied it for ages. Another recurring problem is that people in general are so convinced about the correctness of their conclusion that they completely ignore alternative interpretations, even though they in most cases are completely obvious.

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” [27] or a measure of the game’s momentum bias [28]. This, of course, requires that you ignore the possibility that this table could control something as trivial as crowd volume, which of course should depend 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 turn anything into evidence of everything.

Contradicting evidence

Some believers support their believe by arguing that manipulation neither has been directly proved nor disproved. This line of thinking is both logically 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 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:

  1. 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.
  2. The evenness of a match is measured by the goal margin. Therefore, we would expect to see few wins by a large goal margin.
  3. We would expect to see successful players report being subject to more manipulation.
  4. 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.
  5. We would expect to see the player dominating matches losing them often.

But this is what we did see when we tested these hypotheses:

  1. Skilled players rarely get matched up against bad players. The game uses a number of methods to avoid such matches, including Elo matchmaking[13].
  2. Matches are not even. On contrary, result statistics show that large wins are much more common in FUT than in real football.[14]
  3. Bad players report being subject to manipulation just as often as better players.[15]
  4. A draw – the most even result of them all – does not happen more often than it ought to in FUT.[16]
  5. Players who dominate on one or more parameters as good as always end up winning.[17]

Who the believers are

Despite the state of the evidence, polls [20][21][22] suggest that the believers form a majority. Given the very clear state of evidence, it’s natural to ask who these believers are and what separates them from the rest of us. In our survey[18] from late 2017, two characteristics stood out as extremely predominant among the believers who responded to the questionnaire:

  • Believers 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.
  • Believers attribute their own successes to skill and attribute their opponent’s success to scripting, handicapping or momentum.

Hence, 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.[19]

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.

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