Interview: FIFA Ultimate Team's producer on fighting against cheaters

Marcel Kuhn discusses EA's new no-mercy approach to coin trading

EA has just published an open letter to FIFA Ultimate Team players, informing them of the steps it will be taking to crack down on coin cheats.

It's a clear declaration that enough is enough. Those who exploit the system for financial gain, as well as those who purchase Ultimate Team coins for real money, are warned they will be permanently banned if they persist.


On Thursday we spoke to Marcel Kuhn, the producer of FIFA's Ultimate Team mode, to discuss the open letter and what it means for FIFA going forwards.

It's good to see action finally being taken to clamp down on this problem. Would you say this has been a long time coming?

Yeah, absolutely. You've seen the impact of these cheaters in the game and the effect that they have, not only on the game but on us having to take down the Ultimate Team web app back in May.

So we've seen these problems becoming bigger and bigger and we've been taking counter-measures in the background for a while now, but now it's just reached a point that we want to make sure everybody understands what's going on, so when we start banning people or taking action people see that they're not the victims here.

We want to make sure they're educated in what they're actually participating in and what this causes for the whole game that they actually love, because first and foremost they're playing it because they love the game.

Is this a problem that's only really become a major one in FIFA 14 due to the increasing popularity of Ultimate Team, or has it been happening in previous games too?

Well, we're a very popular game mode and popular things often suffer from being exploited. So it's definitely been around for a while but it has grown in magnitude throughout FIFA 14.

That's probably why we've devoted a lot of resources to battle that going forward and making things better as we approach FIFA 15's launch. We want the fans to have the best experience possible in the game, and all the things happening as a result of these exploits do not lead to a good experience.


You mentioned allocating resources to deal with the problem. Is this affecting the development of FIFA 15?

Well, we obviously have a core team that's responsible for features but we've also invested in starting up security teams and live teams to deal with these things in a live environment, as well as planning ahead and being pro-active in planning the next steps.

So that's why we're coming out with this news now and didn't come out with it earlier, because we're now at the point where we feel we have put in a lot of effort to ensure this is going to go smooth, and we feel we have now had some significant success in doing this.

Is this an issue in other Ultimate Teams such as Madden or NHL, or does FIFA's larger fanbase simply make it a more attractive target for those looking to exploit the game for money?

I think all the Ultimate Teams have a solid fan base but obviously, with football being a global sport, FIFA has a very wide-reaching and large fan base. So I think as of right now it's just the most profitable game that you can try these exploits with.

People haven't been able to trade on the web app since May. Do you see a situation in the near future where this can return, or is it worth inconveniencing honest players to fight a greater evil?

The web app and mobile companion app are definitely part of the Ultimate Team experience. They and supplement the core game and give you a vehicle to do things outside of the console or the PC version.

We want to bring it back and we're definitely developing a FIFA 15 app, but I can't tell you yet when that's going to launch. That news will come closer to the FIFA 15 launch date.


You've said "hundreds of thousands" of accounts have been banned to date. Presumably there's an automated process at work here and not some poor sod sitting on a computer clicking through accounts.

You'd be surprised! It's a mixture of things. There is some automated stuff and of course we're investing in getting more of the processes automated.

But the more you automate things the less granularity you have because those rules will be hard and fast, but if there's a human double-checking things they might catch things that are just on the edge of acceptability and might actually be real users. So we have a mix just now of manual and automated processes in place.

And obviously the open letter also advises players to contact the email address if they spot people trading coins, so presumably you're hoping for some sort of self-policing among the community too.

Oh, absolutely. It's all part of this education process, where the players understand what these actions cause, and are therefore able to help us keep that in check and keep the experience as enjoyable as possible.

We try to do our part during development and fix what we can within the game itself, but outside of the game environment there are so many other vehicles people can use to take part in coin promoting so we'd appreciate it a lot if the fans and the community help us in noticing them.

Finally, there are obviously other FIFA-related scams doing the rounds. There are countless commenters on the EA Sports FIFA account on Facebook pretending to be you so they can direct players to phishing sites. Is this being actively pursued or does the fact it's taking place on Facebook mean you're limited in what you can do?

It's absolutely being pursued. This is definitely something we're investigating and we're looking into purchasing things that can automatically take care of this, because no human can be fast enough to get rid of those quickly enough.

There are tools [that can automate this process] and we're investigating the possibility of investing in and acquiring such tools.

This will help clean up the Facebook and Twitter feeds and rid them of these automated messages that essentially are there to phish your login details.


EA toughens clampdown on FIFA Ultimate Team cheats

Buying, selling or farming coins will result in permanent online bans