Fact check: Does EA apply losing streaks on purpose?

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Losing streaks are a fact of life as a FIFA player, but are they also part of a sinister plan to make us buy more packs? Some players firmly believes this to be the case. Is there any truth to this idea or is it yet another urban legend? I decided to investigate.

The Claim

The claim in regards to losing streaks is summarized brilliantly by the following quotes from a Reddit post written by Redhotchiliman1:

“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)

In the comments section, the author adds the following statement:

“I 100% tinfoil that ea has gameplay changed so you’re more willing to spend money.”

A quick scan through the comments section of the post reveals that Redhotchiliman1 isn’t alone with the perception that EA changes the gameplay to make you lose some matches and spend more money.

EA’s alleged interest in imposing losing streaks

Of course, you may ask what EA’s rationale for imposing losing streaks possibly could be. In the comments to the Reddit post quoted above, various people come up with some suggestions:

“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 will apply losing streaks in order to cause frustration, which in turn will causes people to spend more money or perhaps increase retention.

How EA really sees frustrations and losing streaks

Could frustrations, and specifically the frustrations generated by losing streaks, be a positive thing for EA? We can in fact answer that question directly based on two research papers [1][2] written by EA’s own research teams and published in 2017.

Here is what the DDA paper has to say about making players frustrated. The quote below is in fact the very first paragraph of the entire paper:

“Dynamic difficulty 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 difficulty once undesirable player states (e.g., boredom or frustration) are observed.”
(– Dynamic Difficulty Adjustment for Maximized Engagement in Digital Games, page 465)

Hence, we have it directly from the horse’s mouth: EA considers frustration an undesirable player state.

The other paper, the so-called EOMM-paper, takes us even further to losing streaks as it discusses how streaks influence player retention. The table below is found on page 2 in 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.

What you should note here is the LLL, i.e. a streak of three losses. According to that paper, that generates a churn risk of 5.1 %, which by far is the highest churn risk observed in the study.  So, if EA’s developers are imposing losing streaks deliberately, they are acting against EA’s interests. I will leave it as an open question whether this is likely.

Does FIFA have an exceptional amount of losing streaks?

Could EA’s developers – against their intentions have implemented a feature which generates an excessive amount of losing streaks?

I would like to reference the results of a study I ran during FIFA 14. The aim of the study was to test whether there actually was an exceptional amount 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. Last but not least, I 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, which meant that there wasn’t a surplus of streaks.

What this means is three things:

  • EA has no interest in causing frustration.
  • EA has no interest in imposing losing streaks.
  • EA doesn’t impose losing streaks.

It doesn’t get much clearer.

Why losing streaks occur

Then, why do losing streaks occur? The main reason is coincidence.

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

Some of FIFA’s game modes 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 a 50/50 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 given that many players play hundreds of matches per year, the probability of experiencing 5-match losing streaks during a season is significantly higher. The blue line in the chart above shows the probability of experiencing such a streak in 100 matches at different win-ratios. For approximately 87 % if the population, the probability of experiencing a 5 match losing streak during 100 matches streak is above 50 %.

Hence, logic dictates that the losing streak experienced by Redhotchiliman1 is approximately as normal as getting heads when flipping a coin, provided that you play more than 100 matches per year.

Pure coincidence is obviously not the only reason why we experience losing streaks. Form is definitely also a factor here. People sometimes get bad habits, play when they are tired or similar. In addition to that, I consider it plausible that the matchmaking system can cause losing streaks. If you all of a sudden become 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 possible.

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

4 thoughts on “Fact check: Does EA apply losing streaks on purpose?

  • 2020-09-18 at 17:38
    Permalink

    lol EA must have paid for this. Anyone who plays their games knows it exists. If you don’t you’re an idiot.

    Reply
    • 2020-10-13 at 5:10
      Permalink

      Then where is the evidence?

      Reply
      • 2021-01-15 at 11:51
        Permalink

        LMFAO… My danish friend C R Larsen still in total denial over scripting. We discussed this 8 years ago m8. EA still pay U for making trash articles like this to delude players? FUTFACTS… Who fact check FUT facts?? OMG ppl are deluded here reading this BS trash article!

        eA hAS nO inTeREsT iN cAuSiNg fRusTrAtioN.
        eA haS nO iNterEsT iN iMposInG lOSinG sTreAkS.
        EA doesn’t impOsE losInG sTreAkS.

        Oh YES they do!!! Frustration over your players performance WAY more likely leads to selling your team -> building new squads -> buy more/new players -> spend on Fifa Points.

        It’s stone cold business to them! And they exploit human nature to the max. Even minor kids with the same shady methods! I even heard their old bos GLOAT about it on YouTube. Their MAIN revenue is Fifa Points. It’s 25% of all sales they make in total. And they have ZERO cost generating/duplicating virtual cards. They even control the market doing so!

        U even ref. to the evidence yourself m8: DDA + EOMM patents!

        It’s not only about losing streaks. The DDA/EOMM scripted handicap U need to see as a whole. It’s about EA using built in sliders in FIFA to de- or increase your players performance / ability in-game.

        That’s why U players feel great in 3 games and trash in the next 3-5 maybe. We occasionally experience exceptions tho. This is not strict or linear algorithm. They can apply this anyway algorithms decide based on a wide range of parameteres. They can even do it on some users and other users “go free” Just like a virus like we have now. Not everybody get sick. Difference is that EA have the control here. It’s their business and they use it to max. profit. Matchmaking is not pure: “the better U get the harder it will be” That is an illusion.

        It’s not bad gameplay bcuz of servers either cuz it would be a problem in both ends for both players but one player seem to have the upper hand in these games 50/50 situations going one way, superiour physics, AI controlled player movement more intelligent making runs, AI defending is more active, shots go in – not wide. Opp. GK OP and so on.

        Hell… the Kick Off glitch is still here for what? 5th-6th consecutive year in a row?? U think thats a glitch they can’t fix? It’s so obvious AI defending is simply just turned off more or less straight after kick off. Trying to Team Press helps nothing. 2nd man press won’t activate. Player switching doesn’t react etc. etc.

        It’s all descibed in detail in the DDA+EOMM patents how it can be used in their games. It’s not just FIFA/FUT.

        What more evidence U want?? No one ever gets access to the holy grail, the kernel source code of FIFA. They deny scripting from day one cuz they know the exposure of it would bring the entire franchise to it’s knees so they fight it with all means. Buy off influencers and YouTubers etc. This billion dollar industry! Ppl have done worse for less before. No method is to shy for EA’s corporate greed!

        Stop posting this BS backing EA spread their lies U sad sellout!

        Reply
        • 2021-01-15 at 12:59
          Permalink

          Thanks for commenting.

          You make a lot of claims and argue that the DDA and EOMM patents are evidence. I beg to differ on that for multiple reasons.

          First and foremost, the fact that EA has patented DDA and EOMM doesn’t lead the the conclusion that these concepts have been implemented in FIFA and even less so that they are the reason for the things you experience. You are plain anhd simply jumping to conclusions here.

          Second, let’s look at what EOMM and DDA is.

          Starting with EOMM, I find it likely that it was tested on FIFA and therefore also that it at some point will be implemented in FIFA (if it isn’t already). But EOMM cannot explain any of the phenomena you are referring to, i.e., players performing worse in some matches, kick off “glitch” etc. EOMM is a matchmaking concept, meaning that the only way it impacts the game is through matchmaking. Hence, EOMM is a paradigm shift compared to earlier where Elo matchmaking was the go-to approach, and where the ambition was to ensure even match-ups every time. Is EOMM more fair? Definitely not. But it may cause a more enjoyable game.

          As for DDA, it is important to understand that a similar concept already is present in FIFA’s single player game modes. We know that because the game tells us so directly in certain dialogues when you open a new account. But DDA is a single player concept. When you read the research papers describing it, it is very clear that it was build for mobile games, not multiplayer online games like FIFA. Implementing a DDA-like concept in a football game while allowing the player to control players is a lot more difficult than it sounds. If EA succeeded in implementing DDA in multiplayer FIFA, I believe they would tell us about it because they usually do (think Battlefield and behemoths). There is no purpose in keeping match levelling efforts secret.

          The fact that you don’t have any evidence is however not my only reason to reject the claims you make here. All the phenomena typically linked to scripting, handicapping and momentum have natural causes. Take losing streaks as an example: Losing streaks are an inevitable, statistical phenomena just as well as you eventually will get ten tails in a row when tossing a coin. Another example is, what you report as fluctuating player performance. While it certainly might appear as if your players are performing different, there is every reason to asssume that what you are experience, in fact is differences in opponent performance.

          To add an interesting observation to the latter statement, we ran a poll where we asked FIFA players whether they felt that they themselves were able to influence the performance of their opponents. 8/10 said they were. We then asked whether the players felt the opponent was able to influence their own performance. 8/10 said that wasn’t possible. In the same way that you are able to ruin everything for the opponent in some matches, you eventually will bump into someone who can do the same to you.

          I’m bringing this up to make a key point: It is beyond question that team performances vary, but: We already know why they vary. There isn’t an unexpelained residual of variation here. And that is in itself one of the core reasons why we reject these claims.

          You mention that EA are paying us to write these articles. In can only say that I wish you were right.

          Reply

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