Tobold's Blog
Tuesday, September 01, 2015
Impressive Pay2Win

Usually mobile Free2Play games rarely impress me. I mean, I play them from time to time, and some of them are fun on the gameplay side; but usually they are low budget affairs of small teams. Graphics and presentation are at best "okay", usually some cartoon style (and the same looking anime style for every single game of Asian origin), with little or no animation. So I was kind of surprised to stumble upon a Free2Play game with triple A production quality: EA's FIFA 15 Ultimate Team (FUT). I was barely aware that my iPad could even display such graphics with this fluidity, the game looks absolutely stunning.

Apparently FUT is some sort of a side-project to the console FIFA 15 game for consoles and PC, which you get as added extra when you buy the $60 FIFA game. The iOS and Android versions started their life as free "companion apps", but look like a full game to me now. So there are a number of slightly different versions of it, including also a version specifically for phones. I've been only looking at the iPad version here.

So what is FUT? At the heart is is a trading card football manager game. The most important cards are players, and you build a team out of them to then play football (soccer) with. That is done in two alternative modes, either you controlling a player on the field directly, or in simulation mode. The two very different modes mean that you can play FUT in a "kick a ball around" mode as a football action game, or you can play it as a pure football manager game, or something in between. The action game part is quite well done, especially if you consider that you can get that for absolutely free.

The trap is of course the trading card football manager part. Cards exist in bronze, silver, and gold, plus "rare" versions of each of those, plus some exotics. While your starting team will be mostly bronze and all sorts of nationalities and leagues, there is an advantage to putting together a team from the same nationality or league, as that adds to the team's "chemistry" and increases success chance. And unless you want to grind a lot of games to get the gold to buy the players on the transfer market, you might be tempted to buy bronze, silver, or gold boosters. Which you can buy for in-game gold, but also for a second currency available for cash. I have a strong tendency (out of interest in monetization schemes) to buy "something" in any Free2Play game I like and play for more than a day, so in this case I spent $15 which got me 10 gold boosters (opening 10 gold boosters happened to be a "quest" that awarded another gold booster). But with that investment and all the boosters I got from basically doing tutorial "quests" I am still far from even scratching the surface: There are 10,000 players from over 500 licensed teams in the game. A nightmare for completionists! :)

If collecting players doesn't get you to spend money, then maybe the other types of cards will. There are cards for your stadion, your team name, your home and away kit, various staff like managers, and various consumables. For example each player has a number of games he is contracted to play, so once those run out you need to use a consumable contract card on your player to further use him. There is some strategy involved in that: Why use your best player and use up his contracts if for the tournament or season or match you want to play a lesser player will suffice? What players do you use your training cards on? But the main activity besides playing is getting your squad right, putting players on their preferred position and linking them up with players they have "chemistry" with. FUT works quite well as a football manager game if you don't go overboard and start spending too much real money to get better players.

There is also another game in FUT: An economic game of buying and selling cards. There is a very active market with around half a million cards being traded at any given moment. Boosters give you random cards, so if you are building a team of a specific nationality or club, you need to trade away the players you don't need to get the gold to buy the players you need. That economic game uses the same currency of gold which is also given out as main reward for playing matches and can be used to buy boosters, so a good trader has a different source of income.

Overall FUT is quite a good game, at least as long as you play it for free or are good at limiting your spending. Server stability is sometimes a problem, and on the iPad version I was very happy to have linked the game to Facebook, because that saved my collection from a glitch that had reset the game. I also have open questions about FIFA 16 being released in three weeks with a new version of Ultimate Team on consoles and PC. Will I just get an update of FUT on my iPad, but keep my old collection? Or will there be two separate versions (which isn't ideal)?

Interesting, TY.

IIRC EA says EA Mobile has 130? 140? million "customers" [ Which as FF14 fanbois know is the same as current subscribers. :-) ]

My understanding is mobile is one of the reasons why EA is doing so well atm.

Although this may get an additional download or two for them
I love FUT! With FUT 14 I spent $40, but in FUT 15 I spent nothing. Over time I've been able to climb the PVE Divisions, did all the base tournaments, dabble in the PVP, put together a number of really good squads. It's a lovely game where skill matters. Easily the longest tenured game I've played on iOS, about 18 months now (and counting).
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