Fifa 15 publisher Electronic Arts has launched a stern defence of its decision to reconfigure the transfer market within the game’s popular Ultimate Team mode. In a blog post seen by the Guardian before publication, the company insists that fans who have taken to social media and games forums to declare the game fundamentally broken are wide of the mark.
Ultimate Team works like a trading card game, allowing players to purchase packs of digital player “cards” allowing them to build fantasy teams of well-known stars. Previously, FUT’s open-bid auction system allowed fans to sell high value players at vastly inflated prices. However, many Fifa purchasers quickly found that they could exploit the open auctions for considerable monetary gain. In early March, the system was restricted so that all cards on the market have to be priced within an EA-defined range, and include a Buy It Now option. Fans responded with near-universal criticism of the move, going so far as to coin the hashtag #RIPFUT on social media.
In its extensive blog post and FAQ , EA confirms that the prime target of these changes were third parties manipulating the system for their own financial gain. “We want to keep the game fair and secure for everyone, and ensure a level playing field for all FUT fans,” says EA. “To accomplish this we have to root out the activities of coin farmers and cheaters who are harming your experience. These exploiters generate coins illegitimately through the use of bots and phishing scams, creating a flood of fraudulent in-game currency and driving up the cost of players on the transfer market.”
While something needed to be done, many questioned EA’s need to apply a minimum price value to cards. Rather than level the playing field, in many cases it saw FUT players lumbered with unshiftable commodities. For instance, only last week the market was swamped with gold Daniel Sturridge cards, all unsold at their minimum value of 16,000 coins.
Has EA just broken Fifa Ultimate Team?
EA says it is aware of this issue. It has already revised the price ranges of more than 650 individual cards (including Sturridge), and, in a previously unplanned move, introduced tiers specific to each platform. “These reflect the values and dynamics within those unique economies, and make transfers fairer and more enjoyable for all FUT players,” the post explains.
The bottom line is that minimum pricing isn’t going to disappear, no matter how much fans complain. “[Removing it] would open price ranges up to the movement of fraudulent coin-selling transfers,” EA claims.
“An example of the need for minimum price ranges would be ‘Man of the Match’ Coutinho,” explains a development team spokesperson when asked for further comment. “Upon release, his initial range was set at 200, 000 min and 400,000 max. All of his transfer market activity saw him selling at the exact minimum or maximum price range, and nothing in between. Essentially, coin sellers were using him to move 200,000 coins to coin buyers.
“Without a minimum range, the margin could become bigger, and would also allow opportunities for coin sellers to corner certain players like MotM Coutinho.”
On the back of this research, EA has adjusted the Liverpool midfielder’s price range to 150,000-230,000, and says his buying and selling activity now matches that of a “normal player’”.
Longer term, Fifa forum regular Flamstead has offered what appears to be a workable solution to the issue of non-selling cards. “After trying to sell the player three times at the minimum rate, you should be able to discard him for the minimum price. Either that or have the option to immediately discard for half the minimum.”
EA, however, insists this isn’t viable. “It was considered by the development team but could have potentially thrown off the balance of the game,” explains our source. “The risk being that if gamers ended up preferring to discard for the minimum price, they would opt out of placing them on the transfer market. This could lead to very few players left on the market.”
Across the series’ official forums it’s clear that most devoted players remain critical of the change. Intriguingly, however, fans do offer some balanced, even positive, feedback via the message boards of individual clubs – suggesting that while these new arrangements don’t suit FUT die-hards, more casual players of the mode are benefitting.
“It’s been better for me,” writes a Crystal Palace fan called Tomo. “As someone who hasn’t been inclined to spend real money, I’ve never really had more than 100K coins at one time, and am more likely to have 30-40K. It now feels like I’m on a more even playing field – that I can prosper with a bit of luck in my packs or by selling a player at the right time. Average players definitely do sell where they wouldn’t before.”
Everton supporter Pablo P agrees. “I can see the benefit if it actually does stop coin sellers – the likelihood of that is slim to none, though,” he writes. “People will still buy coins as the prices [of top players] will still be in the millions.” He feels the company should be prioritising elsewhere anyway: “I’d much rather they invested as much time into their servers, and ensuring that the sweats were match-made against the sweats.” ‘Sweats’ is a term for Fifa fans who only play teams loaded with world class players, or resort to underhand tactics to win games, such as endlessly knocking the ball around their back four after establishing a lead.
The loudest independent voices where Fifa is concerned, however, stem from Youtube, with some channels devoted to the game having a reach to rival EA itself. They remain largely dubious as to the company’s motivations, and cite numerous examples of ways in which they believe the mode to be broken beyond repair.
“I’ve got a load of good players in my club, but I only have 4,000 coins,” explains JMX25, a Youtuber with over 275,000 subscribers, in a video uploaded this week. “The problem is I can’t sell anyone, which means I can’t get any more money to buy other plays.”
Another Youtuber, GCIIMessi, shares a similar tale regarding an inability to sell players: “I 100% understand why EA has implemented price caps, but I think they’ve done it the wrong way. I bought David Luiz a few days ago for 700,000; now I can’t shift him at 550,000, the lowest start price.” It should be noted, however, that both of these channels feature links to sites from which Fifa coins can be purchased – despite the recent changes.
User comments in response to these claims add to the EA criticism, and accuse the US publisher of looking after only itself – which it again strongly refutes. “Price ranges were implemented to benefit the entire community,” it says. “EA has no plans to sell coins directly to players, and we believe the game benefits when the playing field is level for all and progress is achieved through playing matches, squad building, transfer market trading, and making decisions with pack items.”
As a software distributor, EA is within its rights to prevent third parties from making significant, royalty-free earnings from its intellectual property. The challenge, now is to keep its multimillion-selling sports franchise equally appealing for casual and devoted fans alike. At present, the latter is clearly discontented. And turning that around has suddenly become the company’s biggest challenge between now and the arrival of the 2016 iteration later in the year.