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 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  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.