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EA insists, again, that FIFA does not have dynamic difficulty adjustment

Despite its patents, EA says its dynamic difficulty adjustment tech is not used in FIFA

Dynamic difficulty adjustment (DDA), sometimes also called ‘scripting’ or ‘momentum’, has been a persistent rumour in the FIFA community for years. Those rumours were stoked by papers and patents showing that EA was researching a DDA system, but not necessarily that it had been implemented in the game. One of those patents has again resurfaced online and prompted what EA hopes will be a definitive answer as to whether such a system exists in FIFA: no.

Community manager Corey Andress says on Twitter: “none of this is in FIFA now, or previously”, linking to a fuller statement on the FIFA forums. That statement reitorates EA has heard the community’s concerns “around the DDA patent family” and “wanted to confirm it’s not used in FIFA.”

In a second tweet, Andress says “for those that will ask why it took us a while to respond: we wanted to be 100% sure that this patent didn’t exist in the game. This includes all aspects – every mode and gameplay.” He added “hopefully this ends speculation, and appreciate the patience while we got the answer”.

There’s an awful lot of scepticism in the replies to Andress, typified by stories of players suddenly performing well below their stats, perhaps by getting outpaced by statistically slower players or whiffing shots on an open goal. The effect allegedly kicks in when a player risks pulling ahead of their opponent, either to artificially create dramatic moments or to keep losing players from giving up on the game.

There are a great many of those stories – it’s all anecdotal, but it’s also a lot of anecdotes. Eurogamer has looked into the DDA rumour in the past, and EA has always denied its existence, explaining these anecdotes as the result of systems that model such oddities as “poor touches or poor shots” that do occur in real football. These systems are, according to EA, driven by individual player factors such as their fatigue, rather than by an overarching ‘momentum’ or DDA system.

The patent itself is pretty meaty to read through, but according to the application summary, the proposed DDA system would use player data to predict how much longer you’ll keep playing, and “may perform automatic granular difficulty adjustment”, ideally without you noticing, to keep you engaged: “Based on the determined expected duration of game play, the difficulty level of the video game may be automatically adjusted”.

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So it’s clear that EA has, at the very least, been looking into this, but the company has confirmed it’s not in use right now, and certainly not in multiplayer. To quote today’s statement again: “we would never use [DDA] to advantage or disadvantage any group of players against another in any of our games”, adding that “the technology was designed to explore how we might help players that are having difficulty in a certain area of a game have an opportunity to advance.”

Automatic difficulty balancing has existed in plenty of other games for a while, and EA makes plenty of games other than FIFA. Bizarre player errors notwithstanding, to assume that because the company has patented a DDA technology means it must have been implemented in FIFA, let alone its multiplayer, is a bit of a leap.