EA Sports Must Repair Its Fractured Relationship With the FIFA Ultimate Team Community

EA Sports' FIFA has been the marquee selection for arcade and simulation-style soccer games for well over 20 years.
EA Sports' FIFA has been the marquee selection for arcade and simulation-style soccer games for well over 20 years. / Photo Courtesy of EA Sports

EA Sports' FIFA has been the marquee selection for arcade and simulation-style soccer games for well over 20 years. From the beginning soccer fans fell in love with the immersive graphics, pace, and gameplay of the franchise, and today EA Sports still stands as the premier developer for virtual soccer experiences on a variety of platforms.

However, the franchise’s biggest innovation was released in March 2009, Ultimate Team. The first Ultimate Team add-on was featured in FIFA 09, and it was an additional $11.05. It allowed FIFA players to make their ultimate squad, with their favorite stars from around the world, such as Wayne Rooney or Ronaldinho. It was FIFA 10 where the Ultimate Team became a staple in the franchise and a mainstay in sports-gaming history.

Now, over ten years later, we are in FIFA 21, and Ultimate Team is one of the biggest game modes in FIFA, and where EA SPORTS gains the most profit. But as Ultimate Team has grown, as well as its fanbase, some members of the community have grown frustrated with the product, and despite still playing it, the community is mixed on how good or bad the game mode has become, for a multitude of reasons. Some pro players and content creators have even quit the game for extended periods. The big question is, why? That’s what we’re here to dive into.

When Did EA SPORTS Land on the Hot Seat?

It’s hard to define an exact period or action that first got fans frustrated with Ultimate Team, considering that there have been many individual times in the game mode’s history that have warranted criticism. However, most of the community agree that the game started to go the most downhill from FIFA 18 onwards. 

For each of these FIFA installments, there were huge problems that caused players and critics to be outraged. In FIFA 18, the gameplay started to tread towards unsatisfactory, with “the meta” being popularized and overused, not allowing teams and players to play unique and find their success. For content creators, this was also one of the worst FIFA installments for creating content and generating views and revenue. FIFA 19 continued on this downward trend of unrealistic gameplay and “the meta” taking over, crossing to players inside the box and scoring. FIFA 20, again with a single “meta” that players almost always had to use, as well as a lack of great promos and a variety of original special cards. And now, in FIFA 21, all of those issues have combined.

Pro players and content creators have all complained about each of these FIFA titles, making their cases about each being “the worst” for their own reasons. The problem here isn’t deciding which is the worst however, the bigger problem is that there is an argument in the first place.

What EA SPORTS is Getting Wrong: Gameplay

FIFA 21 Content Creators and Pro’s make their income off of FIFA 21, that is obvious. Therefore, you would expect there to be a decent relationship between the developers and the content creators who help bring attention to the game, right? Think again.

For the last few installments of FIFA, many creators and pros have publicly voiced their distress and outrage with the product. FIFA 21 has brought little change to that.

One example of this is Anthony “AA9Skillz” Machado, a FIFA content creator on Twitch and YouTube, as well as a pro player for Complexity Gaming. In just six months of this game cycle, AA9Skillz has discussed in videos, live streams, and the "Stick Talk" podcast alongside his brother, JTunesgaming, multiple times about his lack of enjoyment playing FIFA 21, as well as his dissatisfaction with how EA has run the game this year.

In one of Stick Talk’s most recent episodes, AA9Skillz dedicated a segment to the new “Meta” in FIFA 21.
AA9Skillz and JTunesgaming discuss if FIFA 21 is the worst yet on their March 29, 2021 episode of "Stick Talk" / Photo Courtesy of AA9Skillz on Twitch

In the March 29, 2021 episode of "Stick Talk," AA9Skillz dedicated a segment to the new “meta” in FIFA 21, putting left backs and right backs at center back, in any five-defensive-back formation. “EA Sports, this is not football man! This is a bunch of 90-pace players playing center back in a five-back formation! This is the stupidest “meta” I’ve ever seen!” He and JTunes continued to discuss this issue and how the game has become unrealistic and often unenjoyable to play competitively. This is an issue when one of the biggest parts of Ultimate Team, Weekend League, is meant to be competitive, but players have grown less inclined to play all 30 games each weekend.

AA9Skillz has the CV to back up his talk as well, being a top-100 and top-200 in each of the last FIFAs in Weekend League. Not to mention, he's been a professional player for years. His YouTube channel has amassed more than 600 million views and almost two million subscribers.

What EA SPORTS is Getting Wrong: Packs, SBCs, and FIFA Points

In addition to the ongoing gameplay struggles, another issue that EA Sports has been ridiculed about over the last two years especially is pack odds, as well as money for value in buying FIFA Points and completing SBCs. 

Let’s begin with Squad Building Challenges, which were first introduced in FIFA 17. Over the years, thousands of SBCs have been released into FIFA, with rewards such as exclusive player cards, packs, coins, and even tokens into the FIFA Ultimate Team Draft mode. In exchange for these rewards, a player has to trade in an 11-man squad with certain requirements, such as team chemistry or overall card rating. Some of these SBCs are easy to complete and offer a much more valuable reward than the cost of players to put into the SBC. Others, however, seem to be “highway robbery” and keep many members of the FUT community from being able to use unique, exclusive SBC cards because of their price. 

According to FUTBIN, this particular FUT 21 SBC is one of the most disliked in the website's history, with over 26,000 dislikes as of publishing.
According to FUTBIN, this particular FUT 21 SBC is one of the most disliked in the website's history, with over 26,000 dislikes as of publishing. / Photo Courtesy of EA SPORTS

NepentheZ, a FIFA Ultimate Team content creator who has played the game mode since its inception, has ridiculed EA Sports for some of these prices for certain challenges on a near-weekly basis in daily Ultimate Team videos. In his opinion, EA Sports knows exactly what they are doing when considering the price of some of these SBCs.

When discussing the FUT Birthday promo that was recently released in FUT 21, NepentheZ said, “The first few days of FUT Birthday, the SBCs were priced brilliantly… the last few days, (the cards) were stupidly overpriced.” The video where he discussed this received over one hundred thousand views and thousands of likes, with comments from viewers who are also a part of the FUT community agreeing with this claim.

One way that EA has tried to make these overpriced SBCs more appealing, particularly during the past FUT Freeze promo, is by offering loan versions of the cards for much cheaper prices. SBCs with lower-rated squad requirements were offered for players to try the players out before deciding to go all-in on the bigger price for the permanent card SBC (or for many to have in FUT Friendlies for objectives). This was great, however, since then there haven’t been many more loans for SBC cards besides Icons, which is disappointing for those who want to try out these boosted SBC cards but can’t afford to spend the coins or cards on it, just for the player to not fit in their squad or not be good enough.

EA could also offer these SBC cards in FUT Draft, which has seemingly declined in popularity with the arrival of FIFA 21. Players have to pay to get into the game mode, so why not allow them to also be paying to try out these cards if you don’t want to offer players the loans? Let players pay their 15,000 coins or 300 FIFA Points price to play a draft, try out some amazing players, and decide if they’re worth buying on the market or completing the SBC. It seems like a win-win for everyone.

Carrying along with the discussion of prices, we have FIFA Points, the secondary FIFA 21 currency obtained with spending real-world currency to open in-game packs and access content. With spending real-world money on a game, one should expect to have a guaranteed reward in-game or at least a great chance of one, however, this isn’t the case in FIFA. With spending real-world currency on FIFA Points to open packs or enter the FUT Draft, you are entering a lottery with very little odds of winning. Before opening a pack, for example, you can click on a button to see the pack-odds for whichever pack you are opening to see the chances of you packing a special or promo card, or just a highly-rated card. While this is a nice idea, it also catches EA Sports red-handed, not guaranteeing rewards for money spent. We’ll discuss that issue in a moment.

This also goes with playing the game and earning the rewards through grinding and winning matches. Many FUT fans, including myself, have slowed down on playing the weekend league competition in FIFA over the last two years every weekend because the reward for doing so isn’t worth the time spent on the game. You are playing for the chance of getting a great reward, and the chances are slim. This is where one of the biggest divides is between EA Sports and the FIFA players they serve, there is a lack of satisfaction with playing the game, and for those who are satisfied with playing the game, they aren’t satisfied with what they get rewarded for playing the game. If EA Sports isn’t rewarding those who play the game and spend money every year on packs and the game itself on launch day, helping boost EA’s profits, then who are they rewarding?

The Icon Controversy

One or more employees at EA SPORTS sold content to FUT players illegitimately in exchange for real money, says The Mirror UK.
One or more employees at EA SPORTS sold content to FUT players illegitimately in exchange for real money, says The Mirror UK. / Photo Courtesy of EA SPORTS

In March of 2021, the “hot-seat” got even hotter for EA, with the unraveling of news that, allegedly, one or more people who work at EA Sports have been selling content to FUT players illegitimately in exchange for thousands of dollars.

This was the last straw for many. A company that says “We know that the trust of our communities is hard-earned, and is based on the principles of fair-play,”, according to their statement about the investigation of these employees, should actively be working to maintain that trust. However, in so many instances leading up to this one, EA SPORTS hasn’t done that.

In response to The Mirror, EA Sports also shared, "FIFA Ultimate Team is a multi-faceted game of skill. It’s important to note that you can acquire all items in the game without ever spending money, with purchases being entirely optional.”

There are many issues with this statement; and content creators, pro players, and casual members of the FUT community can mostly agree with me. For one, it is nearly impossible to achieve and acquire “all items in the game” because the supply isn’t enough for all players. Some of the best players in the game, including Prime Icon Moments Ronaldo and Ruud Gullit, took days to appear on the FUT transfer market for anyone to purchase and play with, in part because the odds of packing these cards are less than one percent according to the Ultimate Team store menu itself.

When you click on the pack odds for promo or regular Gold Packs, you can see that there are specific odds to pack a certain player, from In-Forms to Promotional and of course, Icons. However, the odds are almost always less than 1%, which means you can never be certain how long it’s going to take to open packs and pack one of these special cards. The uncertainty is increased when you remember that less than 1% can be .01% or .000001%, the exact number is unknown to us players.

And if these players somehow end up on the market, they are priced at millions of coins, with the cap being 15,000,000 coins. The amount of hours you’d have to play the game to get close to that number in coins, including trading on the market or getting rewards from the Weekend League or SBCs, is almost uncountable. Not every player can make that many coins in the whole game cycle, or have the time to grind the gameplay or menus to reach that coin milestone. And for it to cost that much for one single card, and that card not even be on the market at any time you want to buy it is the difficult part that is most disappointing. It’s almost impossible to not need FIFA Points to get a stacked club.

Arguably the worst part of this which has been seen on many occasions is players who can get these cards by packing them and choose to sell them on the transfer market, getting banned from the game by EA, for speculation of selling coins. Yes, even legitimately playing and having great pack luck is a no-no. So for EA to say that you can earn all of the items in the game without spending a dime on FIFA points, then to go and ban a player for getting one of these rare items and selling it on the transfer market to another player legitimately, there is certainly an issue that needs to be resolved, and an issue that has left all of us Ultimate Team players, creators, and pros with a sour taste in their mouths. 

This is a direct message to EA Sports . All of these issues are fixable. Most importantly, they are fixable without putting a hefty dent in your pockets. Reward those who buy your game every year, and put hundreds of hours and money into it. Continuously disrespecting your dedicated community does nothing but fracture that relationship even more. Take a hard look at FIFA Ultimate Team and make necessary changes to appease your player base. Enough is enough.