A lot of FIFA players believe that EA secretly manipulates FUT matches. Since 2015, we have been testing such beliefs systematically by analyzing all the evidence we possibly can get our hands on.
In this article, we summarize our findings so far and explain why we find it highly unlikely that scripting, handicapping or momentum exist 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 another Reddit post claiming the existence of phenomena mostly known as scripting, handicapping and momentum in the FIFA community. But despite the fact that these terms are used on a daily basis by a lot of people, it is surprisingly difficult to find one, clear definition.
Typically, the term “scripting” refers to the idea that events are playing out according to a predefined script, i.e. 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.
But this is about as close as you get to a definition. When you dig into the deeper layers of these beliefs, it becomes clear that people may be united on the broader idea that EA is manipulating matches, but when it comes to the perceived motive for doing so or the perceived way it is done, there are about as many different perceptions as there are FIFA players. The chart below catches some of this variation:
So, although large groups in the FIFA community will say that they absolutely believe in scripting, handicapping and momentum, our research refutes the idea that there isn’t any sort of deeper level of consensus on what these terms actually mean.
And when you take a look at the specific claims labelled under scripting, handicapping and momentum one by one, you realize that many of them either are mutually exclusive or lack inner consistency. One example 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 are correct, the game occasionally will be helping both players, which albeit technically possible is unimaginable, as it would involve EA implementing two, mutually undermining concepts.
This lack of consensus of course doesn’t prove that scripting, handicapping and momentum doesn’t exist, but it tells us that these beliefs didn’t emerge because people made systematic observations about how the game behaves and on that basis came to a conclusion. If they did, they probably wouldn’t have arrived at fundamentally different conclusions.
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 build their theories on the facts at hand, and incorporate new facts by changing their theories, conspiracy theorists stay with the same theory and only consider facts that support it.
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 of 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 of anything relevant to this debate.
Since we launched the site, we have analyzed numerous pieces of alleged evidence, but our verdict is clear: So far we haven’t seen any evidence, which by normal, scientific standards would be deemed as supportive to the idea that FUT is manipulated.
Below, we briefly present various types of alleged experience and explain some of the typical reasons why the alleged evidence doesn’t deliver what it promises.
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, which happen to decide the outcome of a match. EA as a software company is of course at blame for building a faulty game, but that just doesn’t justify the claim that the mere existence of such bugs and glitches indicates or 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.
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, 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.
There are few positive things to say about these experiments, as they fail on just about all aspects of scientificness. 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 product of the observer’s personal bias. That type of information of course qualify as evidence either.doesn’t
Information released by EA
A third group of evidence that we have seen repeatedly is information originating from EA, which then is interpreted or 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 recurring problem with this information is that is rests on the unlikely assumption that EA inadvertedly and suddenly has 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”  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 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.
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.
But this is what we did see when we tested these 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 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.
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.