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Xaor's Corner: A Hardcore Solution


In the follow up to the ‘Hardcore Question’, I’m proposing a solution to FIFA’s biggest problem.  See all previous articles here

In the last article I wrote about what I perceive to be FIFA’s biggest long term problem. There, I explained my thinking that it is EA’s struggle to satisfy a wide demographic of people, all with vastly differing demands, which is leading to many of the game’s largest frustrations. In this article I want to propose a solution which is both feasible, and effective, providing a way that EA could satisfy a much wider demographic with just one game.

I think you can separate the fan base into those three (albeit greatly over simplified) groups:

Casual gamers and non gamers

The bulk of FIFA’s players; not particularly interested in a full on sim or a really challenging experience. Most want an experience which seems, on the surface, to be authentic, without minding so much about whether it is realistic. They also want to be able to enjoy FIFA without high barriers to entry in terms of footballing knowledge or gaming skill.

Hardcore gamers

This group is more interested in a highly refined gaming experience than they are a simulation of football. Generally speaking, they want a lot of control and as little randomness as possible. Many manual users fit into this group.

Football purists

Players who want an experience which comes close to mimicking reality. They want a situation where their level of control is abstracted from the exact details of a particular pass or shot, allowing them to concentrate on strategy and tactics. Their ideal game would be one where knowing about football, the teams and the players was the key to winning.

I don’t think many gamers fit exactly into just one of these groups as they are very wide and overlapping demographics: my reason for setting it out this way is to show that generally speaking, almost all players fit pretty well into one group. The challenge for EA is that the game that casual gamers desire is very different to the game the purists want and very different from the game the hardcore gamers are looking for. To have a chance of really satisfying each group, FIFA needs to be a customisable experience capable of playing in very different ways.


EA definitely recognise this issue, and with FIFA 12 we saw their proposed solution. The idea behind the sliders is obvious: if we can tune the game to our needs then they can provide one game and satisfy a much wider demographic. This should allow them to sell the game ready made for the casual gamers, and allow the rest to alter the game for their needs.

To a degree this works: the sliders are invaluable in that they can increase the number of attacking runs in the game from the tremendously lacking default to a much more reasonable level. I can also make the passing a little crisper, and fiddle with the player movement a little to give a greater sense of momentum. Unfortunately though, this isn’t nearly enough. You can’t use the sliders to un-lobotomize the AI, and more generally it’s very hard to get what you want out of any particular slider.

As an example, the passing sliders are simply incapable of making the passing anything like what I’m looking for. I want to make passing more player-dependent, I want to make easy passes easier, and harder passes harder, I want error to be in terms of inaccuracy more than sluggish-bounciness, I want to see more difference between a Fabregas and a John Terry, I want to make the passing less lethargic and I definitely want to see the end of super-accurate 180 degree blind passes as well, plus reducing the accuracy of long balls, clearances and chipped through balls.

The problem is, the sliders effects are far too generalised to do anything this precise. I can make the passing a little faster, but I can’t make the passes less accurate without causing most passes to be terribly underhit at the same time. Similar problems exist with almost every slider in the game. This is a big problem, and one that can’t be easily resolved. If sliders are to work in FIFA, there either need to be a much, much larger number of them, or, EA need to work to make sure that the sliders actually do what is generally wanted, rather than these vague increases/decreases of certain effects.

It’s going to be incredibly difficult for EA to design a game which is not especially realistic and provide sliders to make it more so. It would be much easier to do it the other way round, designing a simulation and then toning down the realism with sliders. You simply cannot make a simulation without meaning to. There is another problem too, because sliders do not have any effect online, nor have any natural translation to the online game, which means that even if they do get the sliders absolutely spot on, it’s not going to make one iota of difference to many of FIFA’s most popular modes.

The problem revisited

For the reasons above I think sliders alone, even much improved ones, are going to leave us some way short of a fix. One reason for that is that frankly, we have far, far too much choice. When you combine the number of permutations available from the assists, the game speed, the user sliders and the CPU sliders, the number of choices available to us is absolutely enormous – we’re talking a number which is give or take, one trillion cubed.

It’s great to have a lot of choice, but with FIFA you’re presented with a literally inconceivable number of bad ones and remarkably few good ones. Offline this is annoying, as it means you have to spend a lot of time honing in on the right settings which is hardly what I want to do when I get a new game. Online it’s much worse, as you can take no advantage whatsoever of the sliders or game speed settings, and other than the one exception of manual on head to head, all the assistance choice has done online is imbalance the game.

We need a solution which can deal with these problems. A solution which is going to encompass the sliders, and the assistance, which will cover offline and online, and which will both ensure that people can get the game they want and ensure they can get the game they want without too much difficulty. I think the best way to do that would be to offer radically different gameplay modes to meet the different demands.


Splitting the game up like this would entail the biggest change to how people played FIFA this generation, and nothing should be left to chance. We can have no assistance style farce going on where most gamers don’t even know the settings are available, or a ‘haves and have nots’ situation where some groups are locked out of certain features: it must extend across every mode online and off in a fair way.

My suggestion is that EA should look to design three different settings, a standard mode, a simulation mode, and a manual mode which are aimed at particular segments of the fanbase. Each mode would play differently in gameplay, and this would by implemented by EA as presets of sliders, assists, game speed and so on. Offline they would be something you could choose for a quick setup, but online these would be the three ways that you could play the game (the manual filter would disappear as it would become mostly redundant).

It’s important that these modes aren’t hidden, though it seems sensible that the default mode should be ‘Standard’, the choice should be made clear when you are starting the game (perhaps replacing the ‘Beginner’, ‘Intermediate’, ‘Expert’ choice?), and when you go online. FIFA should show off the fact it caters to such distinct demographics.

Some might wonder why there are just three settings, after all, surely the more choice the better? Well, here I don’t think so. It’s crucial that each mode has a sufficient player base to populate each mode, and therefore I think it’s better to condense it into three modes than to have more but find them underpopulated. If they all work well, then more can be added later.

The Modes


Assistance: Unrestricted
Context-based error: Low
Player-stats-dependence: Moderate
Played by: Most

This mode would be most similar to FIFA as it is now, though I would imagine it would tend to be a little more casual than the current FIFA. Not having to worry about what more hardcore players might think would free up EA to set it up for the broad casual base more easily, so, for example, it might not include Pro Passing or Tactical Defending.


Assistance: Restricted to no assistance
Context-based error: None
Player-based error: None
Player-stats-dependence: Low

Played by: Pro and hardcore gamers, FIWC/Arena standard

Here, elements that could be deemed as unfairness are removed, like random contextual error, and personality based error, all of which are arguably realistic but not necessarily desirable in gameplay. Most importantly, assistance is reduced to an absolute minimum so that victory is dictated by gaming skills above all. A lot of current manual fanatics would likely find this to be their favourite mode.


Assistance: Moderate assistance
Context-based error: High
Player-stats-dependence: High
Played by: Simulation lovers

This mode is the one for the hardcore football fans, designed to be as realistic as FIFA can be. Here, player personalities are at their most clear, as is contextual error. Many of the things I’ve suggested on this blog would be included here, like blind-pass inaccuracy, realistic motion physics, removing the contain function, and much more. Assistance would be offered so that it is feasible to mimic the best footballing teams, as well as meaning that the level of control is at a higher level, allowing players to focus  on the strategy and tactics.

Between these modes, I think that not only would most people feel a lot better catered for than they do right now with FIFA 12, but that that each mode could sustain a decent population too. It would require plenty of work on EA’s end, but I think it would pay dividends in terms of unlocking the true potential of technically brilliant game mechanics like Vision AI, tactical defending, and pro passing which are muffled currently. Imagine too how much better playing on manual would be if the rest of the game was tuned to play with it: no more imbalance between super human keepers and the difficulty of manual shooting.

This is obviously not the only way EA could go, but I do think this solution is one of the most viable. It’s something I think you could realistically imagine EA doing in the medium term, I don’t think it would be especially costly, and most importantly it won’t degrade the experience for casual players. Not many other suggestions I’ve seen fit those criteria. One way or another, I believe that if something like this isn’t done we are doomed to a cycle of disappointment, so for me, this is the solution to the hardcore question.

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