There is trouble on the virtual terraces of the best-selling Fifa video game series. Fans have reacted with fury to changes announced by developer EA Sports, which will radically alter the game’s popular Ultimate Team feature.
For many, the eBay-style open-auction transfer market that underpinned the mode’s gameplay – which involves building a “deck” of player trading cards into a fantasy team – was one of its biggest pulls. Bagging an in-form player at a bargain price, usually by purchasing their card at 2am when fewer participants are online, led to moments of punch-the-air euphoria. With some Harry-Redknapp-style wheeler and dealing the purchase could be immediately flipped back onto the market with a higher starting price – a much faster way of acquiring in-game currency than actually playing matches. And the faster you made coins, the quicker the world’s best players could be secured for your fantasy line-up.
However, fans will no longer be able to adopt this approach, as EA has removed open auctions completely. Every item in the game is now available in “Buy It Now” format alone – and its value must be set within a pre-determined, EA-defined price range.
EA has claimed there are several reasons for the move. “To help FUT gamers understand the value of the players in their club,” is the first listed in yesterday’s announcement. It goes on: “To make high-rated players more attainable for all FUT gamers and ensure a level playing field”.
However, many within the millions-strong Fifa community believe EA’s prime motivation for the change is in its third explanation: “to further restrict illegitimate coin transfers on the transfer market”. Many players sell in-game currency via auction sites like eBay, breaking EA’s rules. However, the move effectively eliminates the tense, but legitimate, “player-flipping” gameplay many enjoyed. Now, the only means of improving a team is either to plough hours into playing matches, or invest real money in Fifa Points, which can then be turned into currency within the game.
“EA just basically re-confirmed any doubts that we may have had about their incompetence,” wrote one Fifa fan on the game’s official forum. “I don’t see how this will help so late into the season.” Another added: “EA might have [intended] to curb the rampant inflation and bring some unattainable cards back into the market, but all they’ve done is make it worse. Earlier, only the £15m+ players were out of the market… now even the mid-ranged players (like Suarez and Robben) have become extinct, as they are auto-bought [at] the max range price. The only ones on the market for more than a minute are the ones still extremely heavily priced, but put up before the price cap.”
On Twitter the reaction was even more furious, with hundreds weighing in on the US publisher, and coining the hashtag #RIPFUT. One user, Adam Hayes, even went so far as to complain to the President himself: “@barackobama they have broken fifa 15 please fix it #Obamacare”.
For balance, it’s important to state that EA’s hand has been forced somewhat by the growing number of prevalent Fifa-playing Youtubers who use their videos to promote sites offering to exchange Fifa currency for real money, at a fraction of the in-game cost. It’s the workaround being used by these YouTube stars that the company is trying to eliminate.
The transaction behind illegitimate coin pruchases is relatively simple. A Fifa purchaser could amass 5,000,000 FIFA coins through clever manipulation of the transfer market over an extended period. The player could then agree to sell the haul to an online purchaser for £19.99. The purchaser sends the agreed sum via Paypal for “unspecified goods and services”, and then lists a FUT card with next-to-no-value – a League Two team’s away kit, for instance – on the in-game market for a Buy It Now price of £5,000,000. The rest of the world scoffs at such ridiculous pricing for something near worthless, leaving it free for the coin-seller to purchase. The two-way transaction is complete. And EA hasn’t seen a dime.
Now consider that hundreds of such transactions are occurring on a daily basis, and it’s easy to understand why the company has a real problem on its hands, and was forced to take some action to block the scenario once and for all.
It’s nonetheless fair to wonder whether EA has gone too far in the opposite direction. Would retaining the auction system with an upper, but not lower, limit for each card not have achieved an identical result? The upside lost on critics of this move is that many cards have come down in price since the switch was made, exactly as promised. For instance, any Crystal Palace fans biding their time to purchase an in-form Yannick Bolasie card may have been unable to stretch to the 90-100,000 coins he’s been selling for over the last month or so. Now he’s suddenly much more affordable, ranging between 17-25,000 coins. That great news for new purchasers, but less wonderful for Palace fans who may have purchased the card last week when it was going for around 86,000 coins.
Not only that, but other users are reporting success in working the transfer market as if nothing had changed – FIFA forumite “CandyRat” gives an example of purchasing a classic Dennis Bergkamp card on Xbox One for 4,852,000 coins, then immediately flipping and selling him for a BIN price of 5,499,000 a mere six minutes later. The general rule with gaming communities is, if there’s a way to scam the system, they’ll find it.
Has EA broken Ultimate Team, then? Once the social media rage has died down, the consensus will likely be “not quite”. But has it dampened the thrill of purchasing Rob Green at a knockdown price once the rest of the world has turned in for the night? Unequivocally.
This article was written by Ben Wilson, for theguardian.com on Wednesday 11th March 2015 09.43 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010