Critical Play: Is this game balanced?

Name of Game: FIFA, specifically Ultimate Team for the sake of this assignment

Creator: EA Sports

Platform: PC, PlayStation, Xbox

Target Audience: Very wide range, but generally targeting kids over the age of 12 and adults younger than 30. 


To cover the balance in FIFA’s most popular game mode, Ultimate Team, I’ll consider each of the four types of balance and comment on how it impacts the way the game is played. I think that Ultimate Team is an interesting game to analyze since it’s one that’s often criticized for being unbalanced while still being highly addictive to its players. 


First, is the difficulty suitable for its audience in single-player modes? This is probably the one aspect of the game which is well-balanced and caters to any player, regardless of skill level. Before launching into a game, the player can choose the skill level of the AI, allowing them to decide the extent to which they’ll be challenged. There are more rewards to earn by playing on more challenging difficulties, but this is largely irrelevant if the player only plays single-player—and this type of player makes up a very small portion of the entire user base. 


Second, does the game start one player off with an advantage over another? This is the aspect of the game which is most lamented. EA’s in the game of making money, and players can easily gain a leg up on their opponents simply by outspending them. In every game, there’s usually one team that’s objectively better than the other, giving the former a better chance at winning the game. Despite what the player base would often like to believe, however, this asymmetry between teams doesn’t necessarily mean that the game is totally unbalanced. At the end of the day, a better team can give one player the advantage, but a better team won’t make up for a huge gulf in skill.


Third, is one strategy in the game better or worse than another? Absolutely, and this is another common criticism of the game. Every year, a particular strategy defines the “meta,” the playstyle that most competitive players adopt in order to secure as many wins as possible. Most of the time, this means that the game is very far removed from the actual game of soccer. Because the game is so competitive, it can be frustrating for players who want to play a certain way but are forced to choose between their desired playstyle and better results. The meta changes every year, and oftentimes within the same year, and completely defines how the game is played. This is often a source of frustration for the players, and this combined with the lack of balance between teams leads to a toxic community where players are constantly villainizing one another for having a good team or for “abusing” the meta. 


Lastly, are the objects within the game balanced with respect to one another? As is the answer with most loot box games, the answer is a definitive no. The objects in this game are player cards, who each have a certain set of stats that defines how well they’ll play in-game. 

Interestingly, though, the lack of balance in this game oftentimes isn’t a huge problem. Even though players often complain about it, it’s in reality the very thing that motivates them to keep playing. There’s always a way to get a leg up, whether that’s through investing money or copious amounts of time. It’s a competition to see who can use the imbalance to their advantage. In this way, the only type of balance it would be important for EA to address would be the imbalance in playing styles, making it so that more players could enjoy and find success using their preferred style of play.

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