I was 16 when FIFA 15 was first released, slap bang in the middle of the FIFA demographic. Like many gamers my age, I was obsessed with the Ultimate Team variation; being able to build a fantasy collection of players that I would never see come together in real life is an innately attractive concept.
The only problem was, the real star players, the best in the game, peak stat big hitters, were pretty much always way out of my price range. Often sitting at millions of coins each, earning even one of these superstars through merely playing games would take literally hundreds of hours, making a full team of such modern icons and legends truly unattainable for casual players through traditional methods. Thus, the community took measures into their own hands.
The choice for players was simple. Commit to these hundreds of hours of play, pump potentially hundreds of pounds into the game itself on randomly generated packs (for the chance to win big and pull a high-rated, high-value player, but almost certainly come up short and earn a pittance of coins), or drop the occasional note to coin farming websites for a guaranteed value for money exchange. It’s a no-brainer. These external sites could generate ridiculous quantities of in-game currency and would sell them to you for cash through the players market, often through buying low-value items from you for excessive amounts.
Of course, for EA, this is just about the worst thing that can happen within your most popular game mode. Ultimate Team is the real money maker of the FIFA series, with players often spending more within this mode than in purchasing the game itself, let alone on any other DLC’s available on the market. Just look at the more recent innovations EA have implemented in an attempt to boost the popularity of FIFA: the three installations of The Journey sold copies and finally capitalized on the potential a career mode has always held, but Alex Hunter’s story just doesn’t bring in the same revenue as Ultimate Team. The one-and-done single-player adventure simply couldn’t compete with a constantly evolving marketplace and endless promotional opportunities (such as the Team of the Week, Year, or Season editions of player cards); comparing the longevity of the two modes makes their money-making potential apparent.
So, what to do? Instead of undertaking the almost impossible task of dealing with coin generators directly, who would almost certainly just find another way to produce the copious amounts of coins, EA instead restricted their distribution methods. Introducing, Price Ranges. From here on out, EA themselves would assign each player in the game a minimum and maximum selling price, based on their rarity and in-game rating, meaning common items could no longer be listed multiple times outside their value.
Needless to say, fan pitchforks came out. Big influencers for the game, YouTubers with massive fanbases who were often sponsored to promote certain coin-selling websites, made videos calling for FIFA boycotts. Their grievances earned millions of views, complaining of extinct players and the initial problem of the time required to organically grind towards the top players remaining ludicrous. Without being as dramatic as a content creator who just had their main source of income halved, I think the biggest flaw in EA’s plan was that they implemented the change half way through FIFA 15’s life cycle. People were used to their respective coin generating methods, and the market was already irreversibly inflated thanks to the months of illegal coins flooding the system.
The public seemed to be right, as many users lost hundreds of thousands of coins as players’ prices dropped dramatically from what they had paid thanks to the new limitations. This affected both those that had used the exploit, as well as those who had been lucky or skilled enough to earn the coin totals legitimately, equally and indiscriminately. Arguably, some of the character of the game had been lost too, from sniping bargains to playing the market to trade your way to profit. It seemed EA had done nothing but make their best game mode a hell of a lot worse.
Nowadays, the dust has settled and Price Ranges are commonplace in the Ultimate Team market. We’ve all had a few years to adjust to the change, EA included. Acquiring the team of your dreams is now a much more realistic target since EA provide more opportunities to increase your bank account. Before you could go through a whole FIFA year without opening a single pack, the only way to enter this lottery was to buy a ticket through your hard earned coins (which was basically equivalent to throwing them down the drain) or the FIFA points which hit your actual wallet. These days, it’s rare to go a week without opening at least a regular gold pack. Thanks to additions such as FUT Draft, Division Rivals and Squad Battles, which pay out entry based/weekly rewards, it is much easier to add to your coin total. Even for elite players, the pay to win mindset is now much less prevalent in the community. The new Weekend League mode pits the best against the best, with high entry conditions and good performances being rewarded with genuinely worthwhile items, such as mountains of coins or a selection of the aforementioned special Team of the Week cards.
Price Ranges serve to keep all these new additions in check. If all these changes had been thrown into a previous version of FIFA, before the switch, the landscape of the marketplace would be radically different. If coin farmers were still as prevalent as they were, these extra bonuses EA began to give out would be worthless. What would be the point in grinding away for a week to receive a 30,000 coin reward when you could hop online and purchase 100,000 coins with a few clicks of a mouse? Instead, EA has refined their game to have a much more satisfying gameplay loop. Since the player you desire is much more attainable, losing a game isn’t as big a deal, and doesn’t cause as much frustration. If you lose to a guy who has the player you want in his team, the feeling players experience is more one of determination, since you know the more time you put into the game, the better you become at it, the more likely you are to be able to afford said player when the next bunch of rewards are released.
Similarly, taking a break from the game isn’t as big a deal anymore. You can jump in on a fresh week of rewards any time you like, with Price Ranges ensuring a players price will not have dipped or soared by a crazy amount in the time you have been away. This removes the toxicity of trading within the market, instead, replacing it with a fair sense of progression, leveling the playing field for those who don’t have the time to just sit watching prices rise and fall all day. Those who prefer to play against the computer are also at less of a disadvantage now, as these definitive brackets give you a clear goal to work towards; a real-time scale to play to as you plan your reward allocation accordingly. Ultimately, the game is more much accessible. It doesn’t matter whether you play the game for a hundred hours a week or just one, whether you purchased it on launch day or on the last day of the season, it has never been easier to put the team of your dreams together.
Of course, the system isn’t perfect. There still exist players whose prices are so extortionate they may as well not even be in the game, available to those who continue to fund pack openings with actual currency, or those few hundreds (out of millions) lucky enough to organically beat the numbers and pack a first owner edition of these gems. In addition, some new game modes, such as Squad Building Challenges, reward players for having large reserves of players in their squad ready to be exchanged for a single overpowered card, pretty much shifting the monopoly of the pay to win system to EA’s hands themselves. However, this is arguably the way things should be.
It is EA’s game, after all, a business which exists to make money, one which does that extremely well, to say the least. They made the game we all love so much, they should earn the profits. If you’ve got the funds to spare to build the literal ultimate team, more power to you, you’re arguably more like the real-life super clubs anyway. Now that’s realism. The recent FIFA Point redaction news out of Belgium will be a really good test of the Price Range system, the competitive scene will really take a hit, but I believe it will only emphasize this equalling effect I’ve mentioned.
For the rest of us though, we can take solace in the fact that our chances in this lottery have been radically increased, thanks to the introduction of that which we were so against at first; Price Ranges. They really were the first step to this new, much fairer system. Whilst it may have been a step backwards initially, FIFA has come on leaps and bounds since its implementation. It will be interesting to see what the next move for EA is from here. The new system now runs the risk of heading in the complete opposite direction and making it too easy to build a superb team, making the game stale and seriously reducing its life span. But let’s be honest, most of us have spent years of our lives playing FIFA, and survived the great Price Range introduction scare, I’m not too sure anything can turn us away at this point. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have my weekly rewards to collect; this is the time I pack Lionel Messi, I can just feel it.