Why enabling the opponent indicator in FIFA 18 was actually a good thing

FIFA staple Marius Hjerpseth is never not a source of good insight in the community.

Saturday evening, after a contentuous patch divided factions of the FIFA scene over the course of the past several days, Marius took to EA's official FIFA forums to try and offer some wisdom as to why the hotly debated new opponent indicator (similar to what we've seen for decades in head-to-head two player matches) is actually a net positive for FUT.

Though you certainly don't have to agree with him -- after all, as he mentions, a lot of this comes down to personal preference -- it's awfully hard not to read his dissertation on the topic and not see the inherent good points in it.

Be sure to follow Marius on Twitter if you aren't already. Here's his full thoughts on the new player opponent indicator, and why it's perhaps not as bad as you may have first thought:

Earlier this week the first title update for FIFA 18 was released on PC, XBOX One and PS4. According to the patch notes released by EA, goalkeeper reactions have been tuned, shot accuracy has been slightly reduced in certain in-game situations, and a number of other issues have been addressed. One change that has caused a lot of debate on social media, is the enabling of the opponent indicators in all Online Modes. The indicator is the iconic coloured triangle that hovers above the head of the player you are currently controlling. Previously opponent indicators were only enabled in offline game modes and Online Pro Clubs. Now it's enabled in Online Seasons and FUT as well. Some people love it, some people hate it. I will share my opinion and explain why I think it's an excellent change, but first - let me go through some of the negative feedback I've seen floating around on the internet.

So why do some people dislike the indicator? I've not seen anyone suggest that their attacking play has been negatively affected by it, but some people claim that their defensive strategy no longer work and they are very upset as a result. In the past, the defending user would always know which player the attacking user was controlling - obviously the player with the ball, but there was no easy way for the attacking user to know which player the defending user was controlling, and the defending user could take advantage of this imbalance. They could hold R1/RB to send an AI teammate to put pressure on the dribbler, whilst they were manually covering passing lanes with another player, effectively doing two jobs at once. As soon as the time was right, they could tap L1/LB to instantly take control over the defender closest to the ball and rush forward to tackle. From the attacking user's perspective, they could not know if the defender in front of them was AI or human, so it would not be clear if they were in danger of being tackled or not (AI players can't really rush you, human players can), and if the passing lanes were mostly covered too, they would be left without a lot of options to move forward. In other words, this was a very effective way to defend, so it's no wonder people liked to do it, but after the latest update, you have to rethink your strategy.

My personal opinion is that disguising yourself amongst your teammates and letting the AI do a lot of the work is - if not a cheap tactic - a style of play that shouldn't be encouraged because it renders every match virtually the same. It reduces the amount of spectacular moments that can only happen when two human minds go at it. One mind using FIFA as a vehicle to claim dominance over the other, via creativity, experience and lightning fast reflexes.

But let's assume for a second that relying on the help of the AI to win the ball back is a completely legitimate strategy. What happens if you sit down on the couch next to your mate to play 1v1 in FIFA? You're both looking at the same TV screen, so obviously you will be able to see your opponents indicator. If you get beat every single match, would you blame the game for revealing which players you were controlling defensively, or would you have to admit that your friend is just better than you at FIFA? Maybe you don't care because you never play offline, but clearly a lot of people do, so this has to be considered.

What if you played online without indicators and qualified for an eSports event? At the event the indicators would likely be enabled. We know - as demonstrated by the reactions online - that seeing or not seeing the indicator has a major effect on how people play. This inconsistency would harm the growth of FIFA as an eSport. The game you play at home should be identical to the game you play on the main stage. Again, maybe you don't care about this because your aim isn't to qualify for any eSports events, but we must look at the big picture and realize that it is necessary to enable the indicators across all game modes in order to preserve consistency.

Even with indicators disabled, if the attacking user really wanted to know which defender their opponent was controlling, they could simply look down at the player name bar. So the newly enabled indicators are not actually revealing any new information to the attacking user, it just makes it easier to pay attention to it. So if you are against the new change, your best argument would be that a piece of information has been moved from the bottom of the screen to a more central area.

So why is it a good thing? Well, as subtle as it may be, I think this is a very positive change for the FIFA-series as a whole. Moving forward, I think it helps to set the foundation upon which an even more balanced game can be built. I will attempt to explain why I think that.

When you are creating a football video-game, after you finish pre-production and everything else that needs to be done, you eventually get to a place where it's time to start testing the gameplay. You get a group of people together and you play for hours and hours. Everyone reports what their experience is like, every tiny little thing that needs to be tweaked, fixed, added or removed. The goal is to create a game that is entertaining to play, with a deep learning curve that let's an experienced gamer enjoy the game just as much as someone who has picked up the control pad for the first time. To find the right balance is very difficult, but it is crucial. That's why it's important to test the game as much as possible before it's released to the world.

In reality it's more complicated than this, but let's make up some numbers and imagine 100 game testers, and let's split them up into two equally large groups. Group A plays offline matches with indicators enabled. Group B plays online matches with indicators disabled. The indicator affects how you play, so group B might have a different experience than group A, and they might have conflicting ideas about what needs to be done to improve the gameplay. A change such as disabling or enabling the opponent indicator may give rise to a whole new set of issues that you were not previously aware of. So if you primarily test the gameplay with indicators enabled, but end up disabling them from a specific game mode, you run the risk of shipping a game that is less balanced than you thought it was. Now that there is consistency between offline and online modes, you no longer need two groups. Instead you have a single group of 100 testers playing the same game. When everyone is working with the exact same conditions, it's easier to streamline the feedback process and build a more balanced game.

In addition to everything I've already talked about - it will be interesting to study the ripple effects of this change.

I think users will be less likely to defend by tracking back with their midfield players, and instead chose to control their defenders. This means midfielder's work rates are more important, because it's up to the AI to decide if it wants to assist you defensively or not.

It will be a little easier to keep possession, and the team with the ball has more control over the tempo of the match, so it's possible that passing accuracy must be tweaked to give the defending team a better chance of winning the ball.

Player switching (L1/LB & Right Stick) might prove to be an area that needs more work. Also, even if people understand why the indicator has to be there, they might decide that they don't want to see it - maybe it distracts them - so I think there should be an option to disable it in the game settings.

Again, this change will likely make the game different in many subtle ways, but there is no doubt in my mind that it is ultimately a good thing.

I just wrote 1,500 words on why I think a few colored pixels should be visible on the screen. If it's possible to say this much about a change so small, I can't even imagine what it's like for the dev team to build a brand new game every year, when thousands of these things must be considered. So to wrap this up, I want to take a moment and express my gratitude to all the people who work so incredibly hard - game devs and community members included - to build what I think is the best virtual representation of the sport we all love - football.

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