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Xaor’s Corner: Scripting

Nothing in FIFA is more culpable for broken controllers than scripting – but does it even exist?

See all previous articles here

Even though I’ve been writing these articles for well over a year now, I have never given much time to the topic of scripting. In most parts of the community though, no topic is talked about more. In fact, scripting was talked about so much on the Official Forums, and in such a negative light, that it is now a taboo topic. Posts regarding scripting (or similar concepts like momentum and handicapping) are outright banned, and topics regularly get locked on this basis.

That level of censorship seems on the surface to be a bit Orwellian, but it perhaps says it all about EA’s frustration with the (often scandalous) accusations regarding scripting. EA’s position is clear: it does not exist.

Since scripting became public enemy #1, EA have responded in some depth to the accusations (here) to little effect. Many still believe scripting exists, many will accuse EA of outright lying to their customers, and when this coincides with Ultimate Team, some might paint EA effectively as con artists, artificially weakening better teams to encourage people to spend more.

So what do I believe? You can probably surmise quite a lot from the fact I have taken this long to broach the topic. There are, quite evidently, a lot of things which irritate me with FIFA, but scripting is not one of them, because I don’t believe it exists. I’m pretty sure I’ve read pretty much every argument there is, and I simply don’t buy it.

A sheer lack of evidence

Most people bring forth ‘evidence’ regarding scripting involving anecdotal evidence of games they’ve had. Stories, screenshots, and even videos regarding scripting are not effective evidence of scripting. Typically, they boil down to something like this: “I had five times as many shots and they still won!”.

I’m actually stunned by how many people make this kind of argument – it’s such a flawed argument that you’d think they’d realise before they pressed ‘post’. The most obvious criticism is this – it happens in football all the time. The best team doesn’t always win. In fact, even the team which plays best on the day doesn’t always win. Football is not the kind of game where you win on the basis of who had the most chances, or even the best chances – it’s purely a question of how many times you get the ball across the line.

I’d go further in the rebuke though. Why do these examples point to scripting rather than any number of other potential problems? For example, it’s not unreasonable to say that what is a good chance in real life may not be in FIFA, and vice versa. This can lead to you feeling like you deserve more goals than you got, but it’s not a question of scripting.

Every player of FIFA must be pretty well aware that it’s not a particularly fair game. If you play on manual and your opponent is on assisted, and you try to play an expansive passing game whereas they just pump balls over the top to Cristiano Ronaldo, then you may well lose and it may not be particularly fair, but it’s not scripting.

Another commonly stated piece of ‘evidence’ is the high proportion of goals scored in the 45th and 90th minutes. This is easily explained by two factors. First, the 45th and 90th minutes are a lot longer than a minute, because you have the added time. The way added time works in FIFA does in essence allow the game to be played indefinitely, so it’s not infeasible that you’ll end up playing 5, or even 10 minutes of added time, making those 45/90 minute goals much more likely.

Add to that the desperate mentality of the last few minutes, and you have plenty of reason to expect goal gluts in the 45th, and even more so in the 90th.

Most things which are ascribed to scripting can be explained away in a similar manner. Every game of FIFA is dictated by a myriad of factors outside of the way the human happens to play, and the game is on some level designed to be unpredictable. Sometimes you do get really unlucky, sometimes a glitch leads to a loss and sometimes it feels like you’re going to struggle right from the off.

I can definitely relate to the feeling many have expressed that sometimes everything seems to go against you, but I find it easier to believe this is caused by the various factors of FIFA’s design not quite melding together right than some sinister script. You and your opponent’s mentality, formation, and custom team tactics go a very long way to dictating the way the game plays. I have my issues with how these things play out, but I have a lot of respect for how much difference they actually make

More than anything though, what convinces me is a combination of the lack of motive, and my faith in EA.

There are plenty of design decisions EA make that I don’t really agree with, but I can usually understand why they make them. Sometimes it’s a lack of time, resources, or different priorities, sometimes it’s because they are conscious that they are making a game for millions of people who aren’t necessarily hardcore gamers or purist football fans.

What I can’t imagine them doing is putting in a feature which purposefully makes the game unfair. It is a major issue for EA that people even think their game is scripted. The perception their game is giving off is damaging user experiences and damaging the trust between them and their consumers.

Of course, some will claim EA have already admitted that scripting exists in their game. A document produced by Sebastien Enrique regarding changes in FIFA 07 (the last generation version) boasts a variety of ways in which EA have improved the emotional side of FIFA’s football. A few key quotes are picked out as definitive proof that FIFA is scripted – the one quoted below is the only one which implies the possibility of gameplay alterations to this end.

“We can potentially affect AI through player attributes: a player prone to break under pressure, when the crowd is whistling because it’s unhappy with in-game situations, can have a bigger error curve when taking a shot […]”

Even here though, these are being talked about as potential considerations, rather than things which were ever implemented. Even if something like this had been implemented way back then, there is no reason to believe it’s a feature in FIFA today as the next generation games were built from scratch.

To further rebut the accusation, it is even stated that the imagined system is NOT:

“A predictable system where the end result is seen as decided by the AI in place of controlled by user actions on the pitch. “

Far from strengthening the argument that scripting exists within FIFA, it actually makes the argument seem desperate. If there is any evidence of scripting, it can’t be found here. A similar batch of evidence comes from a fan written guide:

“Football is a game of momentum, and FIFA 09 captures this perfectly! If you give up an important goal, beware as the onslaught may be forthcoming. When the momentum shifts away from you in the game, your players are slower, they make more passing/trapping mistakes, and they are easier to knock off the ball.”

I have seen this guide brought up as de facto evidence quite a few times, but as it is a fan written guide it’s hard to use it as evidence of anything. A lot of the things written in the guide are opinion, not fact, about how the game works, and this mention of momentum is no more than that.

FUT Handicapping

The nastier accusation revolves around Ultimate Team, where there are many believers in a phenomenen known as ‘handicapping’, which is fairly similar to scripting. Generally speaking, the way this apparently works is that lesser teams are given a boost against better teams. According to some this works for EA because it ensures people are continually trying to improve their teams, and thus spending more money.

I don’t play Ultimate Team much, so I don’t have much experience either way. Again though, I’m skeptical of handicapping for the same reasons that I am with scripting. Would it really benefit EA to have bronze teams advantaged against gold ones? Though it might make owners of good teams keep striving for better, it would also discourage owners of weaker teams from improving, which would hardly work for EA.

If handicapping does exist, then EA would, in effect, be encouraging people to spend money and improve their squads on the basis of a lie – that improved stats would lead to improved results. I’m not sure whether that would constitute any laws being broken, but it would be immensely damaging to EA’s reputation if such a story broke, because people would certainly look on it as a straight up con trick.

Fortunately for EA, the evidence for scripting or handicapping is weak. I’ve not even seen a remote attempt at anything which would seem persuasive – something statistical, and scientific – and I have no expectation of anything like that in the future.

In searching for evidence for handicapping, I saw this Nepenthez video suggested a number of times. In it Nepenthez takes the ultimate Ultimate Team team (!), and proceeds to get trashed 6-0. I saw someone who played poorly, complained quite a bit for very little reason, and got quite reasonably pulled apart by someone who played more effectively in that particular match. To me, it wasn’t his team which was playing badly, but him.

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I think a lot of the handicapping debate stems from an exaggerated belief about how important attributes are. Though some attributes are important, others aren’t that important and some are practically irrelevant. Obsessing over play statistics leads to a belief that they are more important than everything else, but really they are a fairly minor factor if you aren’t playing well.


What I don’t really understand is why so many people ascribe so many genuine problems to a ghost issue. No-one has any solid evidence for scripting, and EA flat out deny the existence of it. Whether or not scripting exists, it isn’t worth focusing on it so much, as you can be totally assured EA will ignore you.

All the same, what the large number of believers does attest to is that FIFA gives off an impression that something dodgy is going on. To an extent people accuse FIFA because they’re annoyed that they lose, but this goes further than that.

To me, it is a sign that users don’t really feel in control of what goes on in the game, leading to them being confused at why things happen the way they do, and leading to them giving that feeling a name – scripting – in much the same way early human tribes created Gods to explain natural phenomena like floods, and volcanoes.

If I had to guess, that feeling stems from a lack of direct control due to a high level of assistance, a lack of predictability when it comes to how strategy works out in the game, a lack of balance, and a game which very rarely replicates what you’d expect to happen in a real game of football.

It’s usually pretty hard to put your finger on why you lost or why all of a sudden you are playing quite well, and yes, that could be explained by scripting, or momentum, or handicapping, but it could also a reasonable explanation which precludes those things, and that’s what I believe in.

Thanks for reading, comment with any thoughts as usual, and assuming the ludicrous 2012 ‘prophecies’ are incorrect, Merry Christmas!

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