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Vancouver, We Have A PRO-blem (Clubs)

To many it presents the most joyous way to play FIFA, however, plagued with issues and limited options Pro Clubs has failed to fulfill it’s huge potential over the last 4 years since it’s conception. We examine the highs and many lows of being a Pro Clubs junkie and pinpoint some crucial improvements that would allow this mode to excel in the online gaming arena.

With the release of FIFA 10 in September 2009, the FIFA fanbase were treated to a fresh game mode that offered endless possibilities. Pro Clubs ushered in the dawn of 11 v 11 online match-play and a future that seemed destined to be dominated by online based clubs. Football gamers finally had a mode that could match the team-play experience of major MMO’s and shooters. Pro Clubs was football’s answer to Team Play in an online shooter or Quests in World of Warcraft. Unfortunately, Pro Clubs has seen minor improvements over the last 4 years. Many lobbyists such as the FVPA (www.fvpa.co.uk) have been desperate to see an overhaul to the game mode and improvements to many aspects such as the Online Pro (OP) element of FIFA.

This year’s FIFA 13 remains the only release since 2009 to see notable changes made to Pro Clubs that facilitated an improved gameplay experience. Some of these changes including the addition of Seasons format, Online Only Pro’s and Drop-In matches were very necessary and welcomed with joy. However, most would agree that the mode lacks enough depth to help it grow and compete with single player modes such as Ultimate Team, Seasons and Career Mode.

A Match Made In Heaven

Improved match-making options in Pro Clubs was one of the improved features that was announced at Gamescom last year. With it came the promise of filtering teams to your preference in order to provide a level playing ground (in your personal opinion). For example, to avoid playing teams with 8 human players when your Pro Club is only made up of 4 human players. However, the honest reality is that the system is not efficient enough in filtering out the user selected options. In our own experience there are too many matches where the opponent has a human keeper even though are match-making options are always tuned to remove human keepers. We would love to see an improved match-making experience with fine tuned filtering based on user selected criteria even if it means a pop-up message saying “No Opponent Found” showing up every once in a while.

Blame Your Any

The jury is still out on whether playing with an “Any” benefits your Pro Club, with different fractions of the community having various opinions. Some teams have defensive players that can cover defensive AI mistakes or just prefer to focus on the attacking aspects of play and let the AI handle the defense. We personally prefer playing with “Any” during our Pro Clubs experiences as we believe that it give you the opportunity to make up for AI shortcomings, particularly when trying to defend against counter-attacks that lead to “Sweaty Goals” or what we prefer to call “Cut-backs”. Using an “Any” allows you to press the player with possession whilst using the main controlled player to cover the player who is making a parallel run through on goal.

A sensitive subject but it will be interesting to see how EA approaches the “Any” factor in coming years. There is no doubt that it presents a benefit to some players but not to others. Would it be better to force teams to play with an “Any” or would that decision come under-fire?

My VP Is Better Than Yours

One of the main gripes people had with Pro Clubs in yesteryear’s was the Virtual Pro (VP) hacking issue where players would either boost their VP attributes by playing games locally against a handicapped CPU (manipulating game-play sliders) or by transferring VP file-saves across consoles. This was hugely frustrating for the honest playing Pro Clubs teams who were more often than not coming up against opponents with vastly superior squad players (99 overall rating). Most teams decided the only way to deal with this was to fight fire with fire and boost their VP’s using offline matches against the CPU. The FIFA team did a decent job of banning cheats with 99 overall VP’s in order to level the playing field, however, it was a tall order that was time consuming and a solution was very necessary.

Another debacle involved the use of midget speed-merchant VP’s that were almost unstoppable. A skewed distribution of the Pro Clubs demographic were playing with extremely short VP’s as it provided a huge speed advantage. In more recent years, the physical mechanics of the game-play in FIFA have managed to alleviate some of the imbalance between speed and size. However, this problem still remains in some instances.

With the launch of FIFA 13 came the god-send of the Online-only VP or Online Pro’s (OP). Gone were the issues of hacking and coming up against unplayable opponents. Your OP could only build his attributes and achieve accomplishments by playing in online matches. But as always the very creative FIFA community identified a way to overcome this limitation that was implemented to create a more fair experience. Load up a Drop-In match versus a single opponent and you would get a one-word message in your inbox, “Boost”? The phenomenon known as BOOSTING kicked-off, where players would hop into Drop-In matches and play 1 vs 1 matches where you would take turns in scoring goals or performing certain tasks to gain accomplishments. In essence it was a long-winded way of achieving accomplishments quickly since the OP’s were locked online and their data was stored on the EA Server.

In future years we would like to see a more balanced system where accomplishments only contribute to a proportion of your Online VP’s attributes.

Practice Makes Perfect

With anything in life, practice makes perfect and the same should apply to FIFA. In an effort to create a more balanced and rewarding player growth/development system for Pro Clubs and other FIFA game modes we suggest that the mode incorporates a performance tracking system that influences VP attributes called Performance Reflection. When a VP is created he is given attributes that would suit his position on the pitch. However, a lower ceiling for attribute growth should be applied to achieving accomplishments online, with a particular amount dedicated for performances and form. For example, if a player scores 100 goals then his finishing could go up by +4 points. To make things more interesting and balanced, his performances over the last season should also influence his attributes, so if he has a goal ratio of 1.5 goals per game then his finishing should be increased by the servers to reflect his impressive goal return. Conversely, if he goes through a 5 match barren run then his finishing should drop in order to compensate for his loss of form.

Alternatively, someone who plays Pro Clubs with his friends on a daily basis should have a VP with a high stamina rating. If he has achieved all the Stamina related accomplishments then he could technically reach a ceiling of 95 as an arbitrary value. In contrast to a player who occasionally plays 3 or 4 matches a month and has also have achieved all the stamina accomplishments. This player could be at 86 Stamina rating as the EA Servers register that he is a less frequent player and subsequently reduces his stamina rating relative to his time of absence. This might be a slightly controversial method of mimicking real-life player performance, but one that rewards players based on their technical ability, frequency of play and focus.

A final example to further elaborate the proposal, using passing as a focus (see image below). Independent of a players short passing rating, a more technically gifted player would time and aim his passes better and thus achieve a higher pass completion percentage. This should be taken into account and used to manipulate his short passing rating. So if a player has a 85% pass completion value then his short passing could be boosted by +8 points, whereas a player who has a lower 50% pass completion ratio could have his short passing rating increased by +1 points. If there are any changes in the passing percentage over time then the Form Reward value should change with independently of the underlying short passing rating and it’s associated accomplishment based increase.

 

 

Implementing a system like this would require much programming and rigorous calculations, as each player attribute must be examined  individually to determine how factors like improved accuracy or frequency of play would influence it’s value. But by applying upper and lower limits to the growth/decline then the changes should allow for a much more realistic game-play experience.

Now for the controversy, the age factor. Although we knew this would stir up a few comments from the Pro Clubs faithful, we think it’s time that Online Pro’s had a shelf-life, like all human beings do. Shall we say 1 year is equal to 4 seasons? Then simple maths would tell you that the longest serving players have careers that can last up to 20 years, therefore an Online Pro should be able to play for 80 seasons before having to start all over again. That’s 800 matches not including the Cup matches in the Pro Clubs mode, I think most players would be very happy having played 800 games in their career. We could also suggest gradual physical decline in the final 5 seasons of an Online Pro’s career, we worry that some viewers might get out their shotguns.

The Keeper Kept Them In The Game

At times they appear superhuman, yet on occasions they simply cost you matches. Although the keepers in Pro Clubs perform relatively well in most cases, it is the lack of consistency when compared to the keepers in other game modes that angers most Clubs enthusiasts. Some Clubs have a dedicated human keeper, which provides those teams with a clear advantage. FIFA 13 introduced match-making options to allow you to select the types of teams you face, however even if you select “No Human Goalkeepers”, you can’t avoid them.

We would like to see keepers given some more attention in order to allow keepers to behave and react as they do in the other game modes. Alternatively, more successful match-making based on match options would mean that the chance of a club with AI goalkeepers playing against Human goalkeepers would be eliminated.

 

 

He’s Only Human

Paterson, Takla, Bale, Adam and Young. All names that Pro Clubs enthusiasts are very very familiar with as they are the names designated to the randomly generated AI Pro’s that make up the rest of a Pro Club team. Prior to the launch of FIFA 13, EA announced some improvements to the Pro Clubs mode that included “AI teammates that get better as your Club improves”. Although this statement is true, more often than not, the AI Pro’s make some very basic mistakes and almost lack the basic fundamental knowledge of the beautiful game. The simplest analogy to describe this experience is to compare playing the AI at Semi-Pro and World Class.

Playing as “Any” in order to control these players and minimise the impact of these random mistakes has no significant impact on their frequency. There are many occasions where these mistakes might be due to lag or control latency issues that ultimately mean the command for certain actions is received later and thus a mistake is made. In these instances you are victim to factors that no one can be held accountable for (delayed responsiveness due to network issues).

We have an alternative idea where upon forming a Pro Club, the server would generate a random selection of 2 Goalkeepers, 6 Defenders, 6 Midfielders and 5 Attackers all with variable overall ratings between 60 – 70 that suit their specific positions. The Club members can then decide which of these randomly generated AI Pro’s then put in their starting line-up based on attributes, tactics and their performances. Obviously the Online VP’s of the human club members would play whenever they are online but having control over the rest of the AI controlled squad would be interesting for many. The major revision would be allowing clubs to purchase real-life players (a la Ultimate Team) using finances or coins gained by winning matches, promotions and winning leagues/cups. Real-life players could be drafted into 5 different levels based on ability and Pro Clubs would only be allowed to purchase players up to a certain rating based on their current league division (see below image).

As an example, a Pro Club that was in Division 3 and had purchased 2 players rated between 80-85 overall and then was relegated to Division 4 would then not be able to field those 80-85 rated players whilst in Divisions 4 or below. This would mean that Pro Clubs would build a squad as they went along trying to get to Division 1. This would also facilitate adding injuries and other factors to the game that would add a managerial dimension to Pro Clubs, this is a point we discuss later on.

We Can Play Better Than That

Does the gameplay in Pro Clubs really differ from the single player experience? Although a matter of opinion, it surely does based on the fact that it takes into account a much wider range of unknown variables that can not be influenced by the AI. Network connections, human player ability and influence, AI Pro ability and influence and team strategies all play a major factor in providing an altogether unique playing experience. Although it is so rewarding in it’s own way, we believe that the AI must be customised with particular respect to this game mode.

In future versions of FIFA we would like to see the AI be more proactive with various aspects of the game, especially the AI controlled player positioning. There are far too many instances where you have 12 – 16 players all concentrated in the defending team’s penalty area. This is a regular occurrence for teams that like to play build-up play and work the ball slowly up the field. Even when playing with defensive settings and working your way up the field, you find your defensive midfielder hustling for the ball inside the area. It would also be beneficial to the overall gameplay experience if the AI also provided support with regards to moving AI Pro’s more actively to cover Human Pro positional gaps or mistakes. Although these improvements will be less effective with 7 or more human Pro’s playing for a club in a match, it will still improve the gameplay experience for the majority of clubs that play with 2 – 4 human players.

Ultimately the Pro Clubs mode is running on the underlying FIFA engine every year, so as this is continually improved over time so will the gameplay experience of Pro Clubs. However, increased customisation of the engine to take into account the differences in the Pro Clubs mode will ultimately lead to much happier Online Pro’s!

C’mon Ref

Refereeing a professional football match is a tough job, but refereeing in Pro Clubs is tougher some would say even life threatening. We can’t tell you how many times a match we find ourselves yelling at the television and down the mic saying words we would normally find shockingly offensive. Although the referees in Pro Clubs do a decent job, the variability in their performances and lack of consistency from game to game can be frustrating. Some fans prefer this difference as they say that it simulates professional football. However, when the decisions cost you promotion or lead to your team being relegated then it’s tough to swallow.

We have a different outlook on why a fraction of the Pro Clubs community feels the referees in Pro Clubs are different to other game modes in FIFA 13. From our observations it is due to a mix of AI Pro attributes and on occasion delays in network responsiveness. Focusing on the AI Pro attributes first, in man situation the AI Pro make strange decisions whether you are playing with an “Any” or not. This is partly due to their lower attributes which makes them act like a Sunday league player in the Premiership. Combine this with instances where responsiveness is lacking due to weak network connections or latency and you have a formula for disaster. We must realise that this is a difficult problem from the developers to deal with as many of the network factors are out of their hands. However, this issue can be avoided by re-examining the AI Pro’s attributes in order to create more balanced players and alternatively incorporating the ability to purchase players as discussed in the previous segment.

Refereeing will always be a contentious subject that will attract criticism from FIFA players. It is important to realise that referees have been consistently improved over the years through this console generation so we expect that over time issues with refereeing in Pro Clubs will benefit from these improvements.

Give Me My Image Rights!

We are all born beautiful, some more than others. But, we are all unique and we all deserve the chance to share our uniqueness with the world. Unfortunately, the brilliant GameFace concept has only functioned locally since FIFA 11. In the first year of it’s implementation every participant of a Pro Clubs match could see the GameFace’s of their team members and the opponents. However, since FIFA 11 this is no longer the case and you are now only able to view your own GameFace, unless another player has created a custom face using the in-game editor. We would love to see our beautiful (and not so beautiful) faces grace the televisions of millions around the globe.

We Are United

The Club management and customisation feature set in Pro Clubs is poor to say the least. Four years after the mode was first introduced we were hoping that the game mode would be far more advanced than it’s current state. However, we do have some major suggestions that would dramatically improve the appeal and experience of Pro Clubs to all FIFA players. The first addition is the one we mentioned earlier in this article where the Ultimate Team players would be incorporated into Pro Clubs using Player Cards. This would not only provide clubs with the ability to replace the randomly generated fake Pro’s but also provide a much more rich playing experience. This would include a Store to purchase players as well as a Trading arena where Clubs could sell players to generate more revenue. To facilitate the financing of the club, teams can buy or sell players using using points or coins gained by winning matches, promotions and winning leagues/cups.

But adding the ability to buy players must surely mean the ability to select your squad? Indeed it does, as Pro Clubs desperately needs a “Career Mode” makeover giving the players the ability to truly run their club like a real life counterpart. In essence we need more options to provide a more rich experience. Giving the Club Owner and Managers the ability to select a starting line-up from your squad of randomly generated player (RGP) and purchased players (PP) would add much more excitement and depth to Pro Clubs. If human players hop in, then they can take over positions at the expense of the RGP or PP, but if you’re worried that your mate won’t perform as well a Messi then tell him to occupy another position!

Having a bigger squad should also give you the ability to make substitutions during matches, as you might want to replace Bacary Sagna with Dani Alves to improve your attacking impotus. Substitutions can be performed at half-time or on the fly during the game with no cut-scenes to delay the match and infuriate opponents. Finally, if I create a club I would like to have more influence on kits, colours and sponsors. Thus, integrate the option to pull user-created items straight from the Creation Centre and right into Pro Clubs giving teams the ability to customise their Kit, Logo and Sponsor. It would just add that extra-level of sheen to a vast list of improvements.

The Future

Although we have discussed a whole host of improvements here, we are barely scratching the surface of what might be possible in the future with better tech, improved network connectivity and developer influence. Pro Clubs might not appeal to every single FIFA player, but by adding features to it’s current basic form that may all change. Only time will tell what the future of Pro Clubs is, but the team at FSB envisage a bright one as the world becomes more and more connected and online gaming becomes more prominent.
Over to you Vancouver.
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