Critical Play: Is this game balanced?




EA Sports


Microsoft Windows, Nintendo Switch, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S, Playstation 4, Playstation 5

Target Audience


Important Formal Elements

The game has multiple game modes that include single player vs game interactions, cooperative multiple-player vs game interactions, multiple individual players vs game interactions, player vs player interactions, and unilateral competitions. The interaction pattern depends on the number of players controlling a particular team.

The objective of the game is to win the football match.

The procedure involves:

  • Players picking their teams
  • Deciding on the interaction pattern desired
  • Choosing a competition type (friendly match, or a tournament style match)
  • Starting the game

The rules resemble real life football rules with the only major difference being time. The real world time of 90 minutes is reduced to a minimum of 10 minutes in the game and players can adjust this up to 20 minutes.

Types of Fun

FIFA 21 is a football simulation game that provides a challenge as players seek to beat each other in a game of football.

There is a sense of discovery as players explore different teams and learn about the players in that team, which is a representation of the real life players for that team in that particular year.

The game has different modes that can provide a narrative such as the Manager Mode that allows a player to manage a team throughout a season while also playing the team games.

Four Kinds of Balance

Balance in Single-Player Games

The game has a single-player vs game mode thus this balance applies. The game allows for different difficulty levels where the player can select difficulty depending on their prowess. Balance through pacing is achieved by Dynamic Difficulty Adjustments which was developed by EA sports. As the player keeps playing, the game adapts to the skill level of the player and provides a harder challenge. If a player is too skillful for a chosen difficulty level even with Dynamic Difficulty Adjustments, the game recommends to the player to switch to a more-challenging difficulty.

Balance in Asymmetric Games

Asymmetry exists as there are two teams competing and two different teams have different strength levels rated by their comparative success in real life.

However, balance is achieved by providing a star rating that shows comparative quality in teams. All teams that are rated 5 stars are competitively balanced even though they may have different ratings. Therefore, opponents can use teams with a similar star rating to have an equal chance at winning. If a player chooses a 3 star or a 4 star team against a 5 star team, then they already know they are at a disadvantage going into the game.

Different teams have different ratings but they are still balanced according to the overall star rating

Balance between Strategies in a Game

The aim of the game is to score goals to win the match, and there are multiple ways to do this. All the different strategies to win the games involve team formations, player selections, and actual in-game controls. The strategies in the game to score a goal are well balanced as the effort to score a goal via a direct shot is not any easier than heading a ball into the net. The game mimics real life by making penalties slightly easier to score from, and free-kicks harder than penalties thus the balance resembles that of the real game.

Getting a penalty will therefore provide a greater chance of scoring than getting a free-kick. Players can then choose to commit a foul outside the penalty area as there is less risk of scoring from a direct free-kick as opposed to giving away a penalty.

However, there are no particular advantages to picking one formation over another, or using a specific tactic over another, thus the game solely depends on the skill level of the player. The ease of passing, quickness in using the controllers, and fast player responses mostly contributes to the outcome as opposed to the strategies employed hence strategies are well balanced.

Balance between Game Objects

The game objects in this case would be the teams that are selected, and in the case of paid components, the players being purchased.

The teams are made to resemble the strengths of the real life teams thus they aren’t balanced. However, the skill levels are distributed to ensure the least qualified team can still be competitive enough (since even in real life, a less powerful and skilled group of players could still win over the big teams that are favorites). A 3 star rated team can therefore still be competitive against a 5 star team since the minimum ability of each player is enough to successfully win the game albeit the challenge is harder as opponents would be stronger, and faster.

For the paid modes in the game, the cost-benefit ratio ensures there is a balance since it’s more expensive to acquire better players and build a stronger team. However, strong teams and better players provide a higher chance of success. Thus if a player wants to win more rewards, they would opt to pay for better players and stand a better chance of winning.

Three ways to Balance Game Objects

The game objects are the teams and the players in those teams.

Transitive Relationship

The cost curve ensures the very high rated players cost more than the cheap players, and thus the cost of assembling a great team is more than that of an average team. However, a great team has better chances of winning games and making in-game money as opposed to a weaker team.


A 91 rated player is more expensive than a 74 rated player

Intransitive Relationship

According to the FIFA rankings and performance of individual players and teams in the real world, players and teams in the game are inherently superior than others and weaker than others. The current best players in the world are Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, and they will always be the best two players on all the FIFA games making them inherently superior than all the other players. Using such metrics available in real life, these relationships are determined and set by the game.

Similarly, France would be a stronger team than Chile in the game as determined by the actual club rankings by FIFA

FIFA rankings

Fruity Balancing

Two players can have the same player rating but be completely different and unique. Two players rated 89 might appear balanced but their individual attributes vary. Depending on strategy, a player with a greater heading ability might be more useful if the game strategy is to use a lot of crosses and headers. If the game strategy requires a fast attack, a player with a high speed rating would be more useful. However, it is still very hard to directly compare these two kinds of players as they’re both great and the strategies don’t greatly affect the game outcome hence the “apples and oranges” comparison.

Two players rated 89


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