FIFA 20 is a Wasteland of Bad Gameplay, Questionable "Fixes," and Predatory Monetization

In just four months, FIFA 20 has quickly become the worst version of itself - an EA cash-grab with no respect for its player base.

When developer Electronic Arts planned out their yearly launch of FIFA 20, it should have looked like the easiest slam dunk in the business. Ultimate Team makes more money than just about any other property in gaming. I’m not saying game development is easy, but if anything it should be a sure thing; it should be FIFA. There’s simply too much money coming in (almost regardless of what EA does) to not result in what should be, at worst, a good game. This makes it all the more alarming at how badly EA has handled FIFA 20 since its late September release.

Before we dig in too deep, I should note that, for the most part, this editorial is concerned with Ultimate Team. As a heavy career mode player in the past, I would love to talk about it. However, the simple truth is that EA doesn’t care about that mode and hasn’t for a long time. It was completely borked on release. The only way to fix it is if you play on PC and use some of the many excellent mods. Since EA can’t manage to lift a finger to fix literally anything, it doesn’t make sense to bring it up here. I’ll instead just point you to some of the great mods that make a formerly awesome mode worth playing.

Most FIFA fans can agree that, at this point, the main reason to stick with FIFA over the more realistic PES is Ultimate Team. Konami’s soccer sim may play near perfectly, but everything off the field leaves a lot to be desired. If there’s one thing FIFA always does well, it’s slick menus that place user-friendliness as the top priority. Unfortunately, in FIFA 20, that’s about the only user-friendly thing that EA is doing.

“When developer Electronic Arts planned out their yearly launch of FIFA 20, it should have looked like the easiest slam dunk in the business.”

If you haven’t played much FIFA over the years, Ultimate Team lets players build a team of their favorite soccer stars and compete in both single-player and online matches. The whole appeal of the mode is to build the best team possible to give you a better chance of winning games. Obviously, better players can compete with a worse team, but, in general, you want to have the best team possible.

There are several ways to improve your team, however, only one of them gives EA more money: buying player packs with FIFA points. Over the years, more and more tactics have been employed to drive players toward spending money, but FIFA 20 takes EA’s greed to a completely different level.

See, while buying packs is arguably the “easiest” path to a great team, there are other avenues that can get you there if you’re willing to put in the time. Arguably the best way to make heaps of in-game coins and get the players you want is by playing the transfer market.

Basically, the transfer market works like an in-game stock market. Any player can be listed on the transfer market for in-game coins. At different times, a player’s price can rise or fall, which means smart investors are able to make money by buying up certain players when they’re at a low point and then selling them later when they rise in price. Like the stock market, there is some luck involved, but if you study the trends, you can make good money relatively easily.

Or, at least, that used to be the case. Trading is still viable in FIFA 20, but EA has been doing everything in their power to control the market. In many cases, this results in investors being left with players that just won’t sell as EA is constantly dropping player prices on the market through lightning rounds (LRs). Put simply, LRs are when EA puts a limited number of the best player packs on the in-game store. People who buy those packs then list the players on the cheap and drive the total market down.

“Arguably the best way to make heaps of in-game coins and get the players you want is by playing the transfer market.”

In some ways, that’s not necessarily a bad thing, especially for casual FIFA players. Look at a meta player card like Marcus Rashford. When the game launched, you were paying up 90,000 coins for the young striker from Manchester. However, because he is a lower-rated card at an 83 overall, he’s going to be packed way more than someone like Lionel Messi at 94. So today, his card only runs you around 8,000 coins. On the surface, that sounds great. You’re not getting the absolute best player, but at least he’s usable.

However, if you want to continue to compete as the FIFA year goes on, you’re going to need better players. And, while the overall market continues to fall off a cliff, the top tier cards will never fall at the same rate. You absolutely can trade your way to better players, but it’s going to require a time investment that most players won’t want to make.

So, what can you do if you don’t want to spend hours trading every week or buy packs with FIFA points? The only other option is to play the game, which should probably be the main reason for owning FIFA 20. Unfortunately, EA seemingly has done everything in its power to make that the worst experience possible.

You might assume a game that makes the kind of money that FIFA does year in-and-out would be able to afford quality servers for their gigantic player base to play on. EA sees things differently and would prefer instead to just keep that money, knowing you’ll play anyway. The result is one of the most horrendous online experiences in 2020.

Soccer is a fast-paced game that requires excellent timing and skillful play to find success. Because of the sorry excuses that EA has for servers this can, at times, feel impossible. The button delay you find in nearly every online match makes doing even the most basic passes an exercise in futility. And even when the game does work as intended, it almost never feels like real soccer. Seriously, just watch this recent clip from the r/FIFA subreddit to understand what I’m talking about. Can you imagine how frustrating that would be if it happened at the end of a game that mattered for your placement in FIFA’s competitive weekend league? It’s almost like EA is playing a prank on the game’s fans to see how much garbage they’ll put up with.

“It’s almost like EA is playing a prank on the game’s fans to see how much garbage they’ll put up with.”

And even if the game was fun to play, EA has gone out of its way to make online games the worst they’ve ever been. When you log in to play, you have a few options. There are the single-player squad battles and online “Rivals” matches. Other than the more competitive weekend league, those are two main modes for you to “enjoy.” And if you thought you’d have fun playing games online, well, you haven’t been paying attention.

Rivals works on a matchmaking system that, in theory, puts you up against equally skilled players. However, EA has put into the game “Milestone players” that can only be unlocked through playing (and usually winning) Rivals matches. If you were really good at FIFA and wanted to quickly win games to unlock the new players, what’s the easiest way to do so? If your answer was to “drop down the ranks and demolish less-skilled casual players,” then you’ve been paying attention.

This results in neither player having a good time. The more skilled player is bored at having to endure a silly grind to get a good player and the less skilled player is frustrated at constantly being dominated by good players. It’s effectively ruined what should be the daily mode for most players.

So, EA has killed the market and killed Rivals. All you’re left with is single-player squad battles that most players find boring and weekend league. Would you like to know what happened recently with player’s weekend league rewards? It’s not good.

Depending on how many of your 30 weekend league games you win, you’ll be rewarded with high tier packs and a choice between players from the latest Team of the Week. The better you finish, the better your rewards. At least in theory.

“The more skilled player is bored at having to endure a silly grind to get a good player and the less skilled player is frustrated at constantly being dominated by good players.”

For example, a few weeks ago EA screwed up something with the TOTW pick and players were given a choice between normal tier players instead of the leveled up TOTW players. They eventually fixed this and were even kind enough to give players a bump in rewards. Or, well, some players got the bump.

Reward tiers go from Bronze-Silver-Gold-Elite. If you finished at Gold 2 or below, you were bumped up one tier level. If you spent the time and effort to get to Gold 1 and above, you didn’t get the bump, which means the most dedicated players get screwed the most. I assume the math works out for EA, but it sure isn’t a good look.

And this is far from the only screw-up the FIFA team has had in the four months that the game has been live. Heck, in the first month or so of the game’s release, it got so bad that all of the game’s community managers were essentially harassed off of Twitter. Hopefully, it goes without saying that I don’t condone the harassment of anyone; however, you would think that the team would try to do what they can to mitigate some of that vitriol. Instead, all they’ve done is make a single Twitter account for “communication” and proceeded to barely communicate anything.

I’m no community management specialist, but this seems like the exact way to not make your player base happy. Every chance that EA has had to zig, they’ve zagged. As a fan of the series, it’s been incredibly frustrating to watch. And it’s not going to change any time soon.

See, everything I’ve just laid out is terrible mismanagement of what should be an easy layup of a video game. But none of that matters. FIFA 20 is a dumpster fire in terms of content and gameplay, but EA is still making stupid amounts of money. In a single lightning round over Black Friday weekend, they made roughly $20 million. And it was not the only lightning round they’ve done this year. It almost doesn’t matter how bad the player experience is, people will still pay for packs. Whether it’s content creators spending beaucoups of money or casual players deciding to drop a bit of change on a few packs, EA is going to continue to make money and it doesn’t feel like anything will stop them.

What makes it even harder to swallow is how good something like Madden’s Ultimate Team is in comparison. Go look at all the content that Madden 20 has on offer right now. It puts FIFA to shame and it really isn’t close, which is crazy given the relative audience size of those two games. Sure, Madden is huge in the US, but FIFA is the king of the rest of the world. And yet, the Madden community has so much more to do than FIFA. It just doesn’t make any sense.

“EA has basically gotten nothing right and demolished the Ultimate Team experience.”

In September, I reviewed FIFA 20 and gave it a 7.5. I also said that PES 2020 was a slightly better game, but conceded that, if you’re only playing Ultimate Team, FIFA was the way to go. We’re now four months away from that review. If I could re-review FIFA in its current state, that score would drop off a cliff. This is the problem with live games; something that looked promising at the outset can quickly turn out to be an absolute dud.

I mean, I’ve spent 2,000 words detailing some of the many problems that FIFA has had this year and I feel like I’ve barely mentioned half of them. We didn’t even get into how EA leaked personal info of players in October. Or the bait-and-switch they pulled by previewing great season and milestone objectives and then just making them as boring as possible. Or how they made SBC packs un-tradable during the Team of the Year promo to make sure you couldn’t trade up to better players. It just feels like a massive level of either not caring or being incompetent.

And the latter is what FIFA 20 feels like in its current state; a dud of a game that had so much potential when it launched. Since then, EA has basically gotten nothing right and demolished the Ultimate Team experience. Usually, at the end of articles, we say what platform the game is available on and maybe put an affiliate link, but honestly, don’t buy FIFA. Don’t give EA your money. Play PES instead. Or heck, go play Judgment. That game rules and kicking people is just as fun as kicking soccer balls.

Ricky Frech

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