A group of California players has dropped a class-action lawsuit accusing Electronic Arts of secretly using a “Dynamic Difficulty Adjustment” (DDA) to covertly affect the outcome of FIFA: Ultimate Team matches. The group did so after EA proved that the controversial, patented system is not in use in the game.
We first covered EA’s Dynamic Difficulty Adjustment system back in early 2018, after a late-2017 academic paper laid out the basic framework. That research found that automatically adjusting a match-three puzzle game’s difficulty based on the player’s demonstrated skill level led to a 9 percent “improvement in player engagement,” (i.e., players wanted to play a bit more). On the other hand, it had a “neutral impact on monetization” (i.e., it didn’t lead to players spending more money). EA filed for a patent on the same basic idea in 2016, and the patent was granted in 2018.
Some FIFA players have long suspected that patented technology was at work in at least some of their “Ultimate Team” games. To hear these players tell it, the game secretly uses a hidden, scripted “momentum” system to adjust the results of specific shots or touches based on the current state of the game. It’s all part of an effort to manipulate players to spend more money on better Ultimate Team player cards, as outlined by that DDA patent. Or so the theory goes.
EA has stated a number of times that it doesn’t use DDA in FIFA and that Ultimate Team results are a matter of player skill and sometimes the vagaries of random number generation. But those statements didn’t stop three California players from filing a class-action lawsuit last November over their suspicions that EA was lying, alleging in part:
EA’s undisclosed use of Difficulty Adjusting Mechanisms deprives gamers who purchase Player Packs of the benefit of their bargains because EA’s Difficulty Adjusting Mechanisms, rather than only the stated ranking of the gamers’ Ultimate Team players and the gamers’ relative skill, dictates, or at least highly influences the outcome of the match.
This is a self-perpetuating cycle that benefits EA to the detriment of EA Sports gamers, since Difficulty Adjusting Mechanisms make gamers believe their teams are less skilled than they actually are, leading them to purchase additional Player Packs in hopes of receiving better players and being more competitive.
That brings us to today, when EA announced that the lawsuit has been dropped. That move comes after EA says it provided plaintiffs with “detailed technical information and access to speak with our engineers, all of which confirmed (again) that there is no DDA or scripting in Ultimate Team modes. This is the right result.”
EA went on to reconfirm that DDA technology “never was in FIFA, Madden, or NHL, and never will be. We would not use DDA technology to give players an advantage or disadvantage in online multiplayer modes in any of our games and we absolutely do not have it in FIFA, Madden or NHL.”
It’s nice to have that further confirmation from EA, especially with the additional commitment that it applies to the company’s other sports games and into the future as well. And now those statements also come with sufficient added verification from EA’s own engineers and documents to apparently satisfy a set of litigiously minded players (and/or their lawyers).
On the downside, the next time one of your shots in FIFA sails wide, you won’t have a scary secret algorithm to blame.
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