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Lawsuit alleging FIFA 'dynamic difficulty' shenanigans has been dropped

Apparently the plaintiffs got to speak with EA engineers

Last year, a lawsuit put a common FIFA fan theory into legal action. Three people sued EA for allegedly using a technology called 'Dynamic Difficulty Adjustment' to make good teams underperform in Ultimate Team mode, leading to players buying more loot boxes so they can build better teams. EA have always denied that. Well, now that lawsuit has been dropped, apparently after speaking with EA engineers about how the game works.

FIFA Ultimate Team is the multiplayer mode where folks build their own teams from purchased packs of player cards, with players who have better stats being more rare. For several years, some fans have believed FUT matches are being sneakily sabotaged by the game, with good players sometimes making awful plays and good teams losing matches they were likely to win. This belief was bolstered by the discovery that in 2016 EA had patented Dynamic Difficult Adjustment, a technology to let a game track a player's performance and silently tweak difficulty to avoid them becoming too frustrated or bored. Allegedly this is used in FUT to make characters play worse. I have watched a number of wildly unconvincing YouTube videos pointing to stupid plays and weird occurrences as 'definitive proof' of DDA's presence. The belief is common enough that EA felt a need to publicly deny it in 2018, and that three people filed a lawsuit over it in 2020.

Player cards in a screenshot of Fifa 21's Ultimate Team mode.

The class-action suit accused EA of violating California's False Advertising Law and Unfair Competition Law, among others. It claimed that their "undisclosed use" of DDA in Ultimate Team (and its counterparts in EA's NHL and NFL games) deprived people of the benefits of their purchases, because the game would supposedly make them underperform, and that it also pushed players to buy more packs to improve their teams. EA called the claims "baseless" at the time. Four months later, the lawsuit has been dropped.

"We're pleased to share that the plaintiffs have now dismissed their case," EA said in yesterday's announcement. "We provided them 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."

They reiterated: "While EA does own a patent for DDA technology, that 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."

Now, this isn't proof that the plaintiffs came to believe they were wrong. Lawsuits can also be dropped because it's wildly expensive to fight a megacorp. But also, welp, sheesh.

I do think FIFA Ultimate Team is grubby. It's a mode built upon loot boxes with crap odds, inside a game which costs £55 in the first place. Players evidently accept that, given the squintillion dollars EA make off FUT every year. I can't help but find it a little bit funny that they're concerned about being cheated in a mode which openly fleeces them. And I'm fascinated by how people saw definitive proof of skulduggery in what looks to me like random chance, or AI glitches, or any of the other weirdness I see in video games daily because they're all made of magic tricks held together with sticky tape and wishes. But I can see why players would be wary. As I said last year when the lawsuit started:

"The presence of loot boxes and other microtransactions with tangible benefits often makes a whole game feel grubby and sneaky, like it could be weighted to coerce me into paying extra. It's not a strong foundation for a good and trustful time."

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