EA Sports Leaked Documents Show a Push in In-Game Microtransactions
ccis a legend among sport games. Since its initial 1993 release, the game has sold more than 260 million units – that’s more than double the sales figures for the second most popular sports title. It’s fair to say that as well as being an established part of football culture, FIFA is also the ultimate cash cow for its creator, EA Sports. But leaked documents suggest that the gaming giant is eager to squeeze every additional dollar it can out of the game, using the controversial method of in-game transactions through its Ultimate Team mode.
What is FUT?
FIFA Ultimate Team (FUT) is described by EA Sport as the most popular FIFA game mode. It involves building your own team by acquiring players from all across the different leagues and teams. So theoretically, you could have Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi and Harry Kane playing up front for your team – at a cost.
You acquire players by buying packs using FIFA coins, and you acquire coins by winning games or trading players. Of course, that takes time – one study suggested that you would need 100 million coins to acquire the ultimate starting XI, and to earn that just through playing matches, you would need to play all day every day without rest or sleep for almost three years!
You can cut a little off that time by using real money to buy in-game coins. But here’s the rub. Even that 100 million coin figure only represents the in-game value of the players. When you buy a player pack, you have no idea what’s going to be in it. EA Sport argues that this is all part of the thrill, but there’s a school of thought that it’s conceptually similar to buying a lotto scratch card.
Is EA Sport promoting gambling?
The leaked memo describes FUT as the “cornerstone” and states a strategy of doing everything possible to funnel players there from other game modes. When you consider that last year, EA generated just short of $3 billion from loot boxes across its games portfolio, it is obvious to see why.
Yet this is controversial ground for them to be treading, especially in a game that is so popular with young players. The debate about whether loot boxes are a form of gambling has been ongoing for a number of years already and has been a cause for controversy and even legal action in relation to some high profile games.
Perhaps the most famous case involved eSport title Counter Strike: Global Offensive (CS:GO). Back in 2016, loot boxes containing skins, which are essentially covers that are of cosmetic use only, were available for $2.49. As with the FIFA player packs, there was no knowing what sort of skin you would be getting until you paid your money and opened the box.
The CS:GO skins story attracted greater notoriety as the skins were then being used for in-game gambling, often by minors. But surely the concept of loot boxes themselves constitutes a wager that what is in the box will be worth the “stake” that you pay to open it. It is hard to see any conceptual difference between buying a loot box and going into a casino to feed money into a slot machine or to be dealt a hand of cards.
Action is inevitable
CS:GO has long since cleaned up its act, and while loot boxes still exist, there is now an “x-ray function” that takes away the gambling aspect. League of Legends, another hugely popular eSport title has removed loot boxes from the latest releases of its game in order to avoid the controversy and be seen to take the moral high ground.
So is EA Sport swimming against the tide? Increasingly, there are signs that legislators are taking the decision out of the game developers’ hands. many jurisdictions are stepping in to ban loot boxes. Belgium and the Netherlands were the first countries in Europe to place an outright ban on games allowing real money to be used to make virtual purchases, thereby ringfencing the loot box economy and keeping it within the game’s virtual universe. It resulted in EA Sports being fined €10 million by the Netherlands Gambling Authority.
The UK seems set to go down the same road, after the House of Lords Gambling Committee ruled last year that loot boxes and micro transactions constitute gambling and should be regulated accordingly. Against this backdrop, the leaked memo at EA seems incongruous, to put it mildly. Its publication will only serve to accelerate further legislation.