FIFA 17 kicks off today, and we already know who’s leading the line on its top-rated players front. But have you ever wondered how these figures are arrived at? Naturally, the game mirrors reality, but keeping on top of its 700 clubs and 18,000 players seems like a near impossible task.
In an interview with ESPN, the man in charge, one Michael Mueller-Moehring, explains that relative guesswork is an inevitable part of the process.
"There's always a player from the second division in Switzerland who gets bought on transfer deadline day," he says. "And all you know about this player is his name, date of birth and his position—and his position may be as precise as, 'Oh, he's a midfielder.’ This player has to go into the game. We guess a little bit ... until our people have seen the player in action."
Seeing these players in action relies on feedback from EA’s 9,000-person “data reviewer” network—a group which includes professional-level scouts, real life coaches and season ticket holders across the world.
"The stats are, in most cases, not taking into account very specific circumstances," admits Mueller-Moehring. "When you look at passing completion, if you play for Bayern Munich or if you play for Manchester City or if you play for Pep Guardiola, if your system is based on possession, you will have more successful passes than other players, but this doesn't necessarily make you a better passer.”
Likewise, league placement affects ratings in that if the league a certain player plays in is deemed less competitive, that player’s rating will reflect that. The example Mueller-Moehring shares puts Barcelona’s Lionel Messi in the Irish Premiership, instead of Spain’s La Liga top flight.
"If Messi were playing in the Irish league, his attributes would drop simply because he's not on the highest level anymore," Mueller-Moehring says. "We want to base our ratings on actual performance data."
Feedback from EA’s 300 data editors, as well as the reports from the 9,000 data reviewers, is gathered and collated into 300 different fields and 35 special attribute categories. The end result is each player’s overall rating, however there are no clear guidelines in relation to physical attributes—something which creates anomalies when rating certain players.
"A case is Thomas Muller, who isn't good at anything, really, apart from his positioning," says Mueller-Moehring. "He always finds the right spot on the pitch, it's amazing. But he's not a great dribbler and he can't really strike the ball properly—his finishing is sometimes really, really off. Shot power is not his strength as well.
"So if you rate Thomas Muller properly, he ends up with a rating that we say doesn't make sense. It's too low."
ESPN’s report can be read in full here.