Fact check: Does EA apply losing streaks on purpose?

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Yesterday, I read this post about losing streaks by Redditor Redhotchiliman1, which I’m going to relay in full length:

“What’s your story ? I’m on a 5 game losing street and things I notice when this happens. 1.) Players refuse to get open. They pretty much decide to hide behind defenders , make run behind defenders and stand so close to them that passes are always intercepted. 2.) User tackle become completely useless. It will either be a foul or go directly back to them 3.) Passing. Might as well be playing with hippos compared to the shit passes and touches they make. Players with 90 dribbling and 90 passing shouldn’t be doing this. 4.) Ai does whatever it can to just suck ass and let the other guy win. 2-2 tie. Let me fuck a touch up near the box and cause a goal that works. Then 3 days later I’m on a winning streak.”
(– Post om Reddit)

A bit further into the comments section, the author elaborates on his post, saying that “I 100% tinfoil that ea has gameplay changed so you’re more willing to spend money.”

The author doesn’t explain how losing streaks can make people spend more money, but we have previously seen people argue that making people experience bad results would lead them to spend more money on packs. Whether this is the motive in Redhotchiliman1’s post is not clear.

So, is there any truth to this or is it just another FIFA conspiracy theory? Let’s find out.

Would EA have an interest in applying losing streaks?

A relevant question to ask is what the rationale under this conspiracy theory possibly could be.

I the comments section accompanying the Reddit post quoted above, people speculate about EA having a commercial interest in making us endure losing streaks.

“Losing streaks are designed to be such mate. They are the best possible source of Frustration inducers. Winning streaks are also designed to be such. If you read a bit of gaming literature you will know that a gamer never quits a game when on a losing streak, so it creates rapid retention.”

“Frustration is the closest emotion to indulge in microtransactions than anything else.”
(– Comments on Reddit)

So, according to the quotes above, EA would apply losing streaks in order to cause frustration, which in turn will causes people to spend more money / increase retention.

Interestingly, we know exactly how EA perceives frustration and losing streaks.

Earlier this year, we discussed two articles [1][2] published by an EA funded research team. The first paper, the so-called DDA paper, starts with the following paragraph:

“Dynamic dificulty adjustment (DDA) is a technique for adaptively changing a game to make it easier or harder. A common paradigm to achieve DDA is through heuristic prediction and intervention, adjusting game dificulty once undesirable player states (e.g., boredom or frustration) are observed.”
(– Dynamic Difficulty Adjustment for Maximized Engagement in Digital Games, page 465)

Directly from the horse’s mouth: Frustration is an undesirable player state.

The other paper, the so-called EOMM-paper, discusses how streaks influence player retention. The table below is found on page 2 on the paper. It refers the results of an empirical studies into how different series of match outcomes influence the churn risk, i.e. the probability that a player will stop playing after different series of results.

According to said empirical study, a streak of three losses generates a churn risk of 5.1 %, which by far is the highest churn risk observed in the study.  So, to cut a long story short: If EA were applying losing streaks deliberately, they would be acting against their own, acknowledged, best interest. Or to spell it out:

EA has no interest in applying losing streaks. They know perfectly well that it will cause people to spend less money, not more.

EA does not apply losing streaks

Just to nail it stone dead, if would like to reference the results of a study I ran during FIFA 14. The aim of the study was to test whether there was a surplus of losing streaks, as people were complaining about it back then as well.

I tested this by collecting a sample of match history records (20 matches per player) for a fair number of players. I then counted the number and duration of losing streaks in the sample. I then compared the observed number of streaks with the number of streaks I would expect to find if streaks were the product of pure coincidence.

The result was crystal clear: The samples were statistically identical. There wasn’t a surplus of streaks which could indicate that someone was applying streaks on purpose.

Why losing streaks occur

Then, why do losing streaks occur? There are many reasons, but the main one is coincidence.

Redhotchiliman1 is on a five match losing streak, which for the vast majority of players who play online matches is perfectly normal.

FIFA uses a skill-based matchmaking system, meaning that players are matched with opponents on roughly the same level as them. Because of that, a lot of players will be average relative to their opponents, meaning that they roughly have the same chance of winning and losing their next match. Based on a real data set covering 3192 players from FIFA 16, we estimate that roughly 50 % of all players have a win percentage between 45 and 55 %.

If you are exactly average, the probability of losing five matches is ½ * ½ * ½ * ½ * ½ = 3.125 %. But typically, players play hundreds of matches per year, meaning that the probability of experiencing 5-match losing streaks will be significantly higher. The blue line in the chart above shots the probability of experiencing such a streak in 100 matches as different win-ratios. For approximately 87 % if the population, the probability is more than 50 %, provided they play minimum 100 matches in a year.

Pure coincidence is obviously not the only reason contributing to the occurrence of losing streaks. First and foremost, form is a factor in FIFA as in real life. People sometimes get bad habits, play when they are tired or similar. Second, I consider it a plausible option that the matchmaking system can cause losing streaks. If you all of a sudden becomes overrated, you will get tougher opponents and then likely lose more matches. I haven’t seen direct evidence supporting this assertion, but it’s definitely not impossible.

So, in human language, a 5-match losing streak is as inevitable as death and taxes – unless you are extraordinarily good relative to your opponents – or play few matches.

Why do players perform worse during losing streaks?

Finally, I would like to make a few comments on the part of the Reddit post where the author explains how his players all of a sudden perform badly:

“1.) Players refuse to get open. They pretty much decide to hide behind defenders , make run behind defenders and stand so close to them that passes are always intercepted.
2.) User tackle become completely useless. It will either be a foul or go directly back to them
3.) Passing. Might as well be playing with hippos compared to the shit passes and touches they make. Players with 90 dribbling and 90 passing shouldn’t be doing this.
4.) AI does whatever it can to just suck ass and let the other guy win. 2-2 tie. Let me fuck a touch up near the box and cause a goal that works.”

So, when you are on a losing streak, your players don’t make themselves open, your tackles aren’t successful, passing doesn’t work and the AI sucks.

The above is pretty much what my opponents experiences when I beat them:

  • His players don’t get open, because I mark them and thereby avoid leaving any space for them to move in to.
  • He will only be allowed to tackle in situations where I’m likely to win the ball afterwards.
  • He will find it difficult to pass the ball around because I will predict his build up play and position my players close to the players he wants to pass to.
  • The AI makes errors, but they become decisive to my opponent because all the action takes place inside his box.

Hence, I’m perfectly sure that Redhotchiliman1’s players perform worse. But this is all to the credit of the opponent.

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