FIFA is best known as a console and PC game, but EA's hit soccer franchise has had a dedicated mobile audience for years now too. Some fans have had a hard time enjoying FIFA 15 Ultimate Team since it arrived last month for iOS and Android devices, however, because it's been marred by technical issues.
Like its predecessor FIFA 14, the new game has been well-received by fans and critics at mobile-centric sites like Touch Arcade and Pocket Gamer. But as is too often the case for sports games like this, the actual high quality gameplay has been overshadowed for some players by their inability to access it in the first place. Judging from player reviews posted on the iOS app store and Android's Google Play store as well as comments posted on various gaming forums including EA's own channels, mobile FIFA fans have run into a number of performance issues when trying to play the new Ultimate Team. While the specifics are diverse, a core problem is with the stability of the game and its servers—something that affects people's ability to access different parts of the game (or access the game entirely), link it successfully to their Facebook accounts, and retain progress and in-game currency they've acquired.
One particularly frustrating FIFA issue experienced by some, including Deadspin's Tim Burke, cuts off players' connections right at the end of a match, thereby failing to register the match's successful completion. This has wider ramifications for the game because, like many popular mobile titles, FIFA 15 Ultimate Team has microtransactions and in-game currency. It's also a sports management game, which means that an important aspect of its gameplay that players sink a lot of time and energy into is building a team full of their preferred players. To build and maintain a team, you have to spend either coins or "FIFA points," the two types of in-game currency. Points are the one type of in-game currency that can be purchased with real money: $0.99 for 100 points, $2.99 for 300, all the way up to $99 for 10,000. These two different types of currency are then used to acquire players by either purchasing packs of cards and hoping there are some good players inside (think drafting in Magic: The Gathering), or seeking out individual players on the game's "transfer market."
Points are a much more valuable form of currency. It costs 700 FIFA points (a little less than $7.99) to buy a "gold pack," the snazziest set of cards available on the game's marketplace, for instance, while the same pack would run you 35,000 coins. Money isn't just required to get players, either: you also need to spend coins to maintain the "contract" you have with any given player every time you put them out on the field. These contracts vary in price depending on the skill level and ranking of the player. The best way to earn coins, meanwhile, is by successfully completing matches or selling off players. Burke explained to me that he can usually get 500 coins for completing a match at this point. The last two players he sold off got him 200 and 150 coins respectively. The cost of the requisite contracts to deploy players can, ideally, be offset by the coins earned at the end of a match. But if you don't manage your team effectively and deploy too many high-level players, you could very well end up coming up short at the end of a match.
If all of this sounds exceedingly complicated, that's because it is. There's a reason that FIFA fans glom on to this game the same way they do with the console releases: it's a complex sports simulation game that requires tactful planning, high level strategy, and constant management of resources to master. And that's if everything works properly. If the game drops out right before a match is finished, that means that you lose any opportunity to gain currency back after being required to invest it just to start the match.
In other words: the instability of the game has made it so some players are left stuck in a bind where they're consistently losing the very resource required to keep playing the game.
If the game drops out regularly enough, therefore, it becomes effectively unplayable. This issue is undoubtedly frustrating if you've lost the time and energy you've invested in grinding through matches to build up a solid roster of players. But player grievances are intensified if they've spent real money to expedite the whole team-building process only to find that they're suddenly stuck in a position where their in-game currency is being depleted for arbitrary technical reasons—if they're able to even play the game in the first place. It's difficult to tell how many FIFA 15 players have spent real money on the game, and how much money those players have spent. But people have written comments on both the iTunes and Google Play store saying that they've lost players and progress after spending real cash to get them. Some claim they haven't even received FIFA points after purchasing them.
When I contacted EA about the issue, they said it was difficult to pinpoint the exact source problems here. A representative from the company wrote me Tuesday to say: "Long story short is that it is very difficult to tell the genesis of these complaints (i.e. 3G/4G or wifi issues vs game issues)."
"We did find a minor issue affecting a small percentage of users causing them to drop before the game completed but it has since been fixed," the EA rep said. "And at the moment we're not receiving complaints about servers for the iOS/Android games."
EA's representative was speaking specifically about the servers, not other potential issues with the game. But I found his last statement about the company no longer receiving complaints perplexing all the same. All I had to do was skip over to FIFA 15's reviews on Google Play and iTunes to see players writing about their frustrating experiences just trying to get the thing to work on their respective mobile device:
As you can see from the dates listed, some of these comments were posted as recently as Monday. In certain cases, players have reported experiencing more problems with the game's performance since it was last updated—particularly on Android. I downloaded the game on my iPad and Android smartphone yesterday to test out the respective versions. While the Android version seemed to run fine, I couldn't even start playing the iOS version of the game on Tuesday night because every time I tried to open up the app, it got stuck on the "connecting to server" screen.
It's also worth noting that these comments show that players still genuinely enjoy FIFA 15 Ultimate Team when the game is working for them. Indeed, many of the most critical comments are nested in glowing praise of the game and the improvements EA has made to the series since FIFA 14. And the new game has retained high marks in terms of its aggregate rankings on both iTunes and Google Play since it launched last month. As is often the case, these player complaints seem to be coming from a place of love more than anything else.
I reached out to EA to ask when exactly the fix was implemented to get a better idea of the timeframe behind its updates on iOS and Android. I also asked if the company was issuing refunds to players who had either lost stuff they'd purchased with FIFA points or not received FIFA points in the first place. We'll let you know if they have more to say.
UPDATE 11/4/2014 2:30 pm: EA got back to me with some specific answers from the FIFA 15 Ultimate Team development team. The developers said that while they've received reports of connectivity issues, overall their internal data tells them that "fans are having a stable, positive experience." As I mentioned in the original story, some of the problems here could be caused by faulty internet connections—a factor that doesn't have anything to do with the game, necessarily. That being said, players and commenters on the original article have noted that having an "always-online" requirement for the game does end up hampering the gameplay experience whenever these sorts of connection issues do occur.
Full transcript of our short Q&A below:
When was the fix implemented?
Across the entire FIFA franchise, we monitor fan feedback and consistently deploy fixes as and when they become available. Our first update for the mobile game was on October 17 and it addressed stability in the game among other fixes. Shortly following that we implemented a fix that was affecting a small number of fans that weren't receiving virtual coins after a completed match.
Do you have any data on how many players were having problems with the game prior to the fixes that you mentioned? And how many complaints your received about the Android and iOS versions of the game?
It's difficult to quantify the exact number of complaints we've received simply because of the number of channels we monitor fan feedback and the variety of platforms FIFA is available on. We can confirm that all of our in-game telemetry and data tells us that fans are having a stable, positive experience – there have been more than 530 million matches played since the launch of FIFA 15 Ultimate Team mobile.
Have you issued refunds or in-game credit to players who've lost progress or coins because of connectivity and stability issues? Are you continuing to do so?
Absolutely, fans playing on mobile that experience issues with coins and/or FIFA Points can contact us using help.ea.com where advisers will assess the issue and reimburse players accordingly.