FIFA 12 Review: This Game is a Game
Games Within Games
Though changes to Career Mode focus on a venerable feature, FIFA 12 also embraces a cutting-edge industry trend: “gamification.” Usually used to describe the addition of game mechanics to mundane activities – “Bill became the Mayor of Burger King on FourSquare” — gamification exists in FIFA 12 as a brand new addition that envelops the game like the chocolately outer layer of a candy bar.
Thanks to a system known as EA Sports FC, every action you take in FIFA 12 earns you XP. When you first start playing the game, you’re asked to pick a club to support. From then on, every time you win a game, or attain some definite goal, the XP you earn is applied to your favorite club’s total. This statistic is then used in a system that pits the world’s various clubs against each other, to see which are best-supported by FIFA 12-playing gamers competing on their behalf. Scenario challenges bestow XP on players who can overcome difficult, simulated circumstances — situations like “come back from 2-0 down at half-time against Manchester City.”
Daily caps on experience discourage power users, and a variety of other measures keep proceedings fair and exciting. Teams are ranked globally based on the average XP gain of their supporters, but they’re also divided into leagues. Each league has a promotion and relegation system that mirrors real soccer; the 17 best-supported to teams get to stay, but their three worst-performing counterparts trade places with the three best teams in the league below.
Not content with all the modes they shipped with last year, EA has effectively gamified their game, turning each soccer match into an opportunity to succeed or fail in an overarching, number-driven competition. Cannily tapping into the club-centric fervor of soccer fandom, the system adds meaning and heft to FIFA 12′s most pedestrian actions. Earning XP also enables you to level up your personal profile — as if you didn’t have enough game to keep track of already.
EA isn’t done, however. For many users (myself included) ranked, head-to-head online play forms the core of the FIFA experience. AI opponents, while well-designed, represent an entirely different challenge, one that revolves more around disrupting the computer’s metronomic possession football and evading its uncannily accurate tackling.
With its popularity in mind, EA decided to gamify human vs. human online play as well. A new system called “Head-to-Head Seasons” has replaced the old ranking methodology. When you begin a Head-to-Head Season, you’re given a set number of matches in the season. After each match, you earn points for the outcome – three for a win, one for a draw, none for a loss, just like in real soccer. These points are then applied to your progress through a division. Limited by the number of available games in your season, you’ll have to earn enough points to avoid relegation, while potentially earning promotion to a higher division if you achieve a certain benchmark.
In practice, this gives exciting context to online matches. Mathematically, the system always worked like this, moving players up and down in rank based on points earned and lost, and ensuring matchups stayed relatively fair, but FIFA 12′s version adds a slick, gamified sheen. Qualification for online tournaments based on your division is another new perk.
Next: The three big gameplay changes.