Loot Boxes and FUT: A Gambling Conundrum.
Since FIFA Ultimate Team’s (FUT) inception in 2009, it has grown exponentially into a game mode that generated $1.38 billion of revenue last year alone. This poses the question: “How can a mode within a game be worth more than the actual game?” Well…packs.
What are packs? How do they work?
Packs are a form of loot box. In short, the player pays for the pack with the in-game currency, which can either be earned via many hours of gameplay or purchased for real money. FIFA’s in-game currency, ‘FIFA Points’, can be bought in batches from £0.79 to £79.99.
FIFA 20’s most expensive pack, the ‘Ultimate Pack’, costs the equivalent of £16.66. However, FIFA Points jump in price from £15.99 to £31.99 to £79.99. This means if the player wants to purchase one ‘Ultimate Pack’, they must make two purchases to be able to afford the £16.66 pack or purchase points worth nearly double the pack’s value as purchasing the pack directly is not an option.
Either option always means there are points left over in the user’s account, encouraging them to purchase more points to have enough for another pack, which only helps to further provoke addictive behaviours amongst the millions of underage FIFA players.
FIFA actually has another in-game currency: coins. These coins can be earned by playing matches and by selling players on the game’s marketplace. However, this system is not designed to allow you to get the best cards, with many gamers complaining of spending upwards of 300 hours on playing and trading to be able to afford one great player.
One great player does not make for a competitive team, leaving packs as the only viable way of competing in FUT.
Furthermore, the money spent in one iteration of FIFA does not carry over to the next year’s title. This means that each player has to start fresh. So, to acquire the same quality of players as they previously had, the consumer must, yet again, buy packs.
The evolution of packs.
Way back in FIFA 09, there were only three rarities of player card: bronze, silver and gold, with the player’s rating deciding the rarity of their card. While this system still exists in the modern FIFAs, a lot has changed.
Nowadays in FIFA 20, in addition to the regular bronze, silver and gold cards, we have 39 different rarities of special cards, which are released throughout the game’s life cycle, oftentimes coinciding with the release of ‘special’ packs to be released too. More and more special cards are released each year in direct correlation with the ever-increasing revenue generated by FUT.
In the early versions of Ultimate Team, card designs were relatively bland. They had the player’s photo, stats, rating (a number between 0-99) and a specific colour denoting rarity. Now, all of the special cards come with flashy colours and animations, making these special cards even more appealing to FIFA’s young player base.
With FIFA’s large range of licensed competitions, the rate of increase of special cards doesn’t look like it’s going to be slowing down any time soon.
In April 2018, Belgium became the first country to ban loot boxes as a concept. This came after another EA title, Star Wars: Battlefront II, was heavily criticized for hiding major in-game characters behind a loot box paywall.
This was a major step, and other countries are in line to follow suit. At the beginning of July this year, the UK House of Lords Gambling Committee declared that loot boxes should come under current gambling regulations as they are “games of chance”.
The Lords report targeted loot boxes specifically and warns that regulation must be introduced swiftly as they are “teaching kids to gamble”.
In June 2018, when speaking in front of UK MPs, EA vice president Kerry Hopkins stated that EA’s packs are “ethical and fun” and “like Kinder Eggs”. However, there are hundreds of cases where vulnerable people and children have been coaxed into spending thousands of pounds on FIFA packs. Can you see that happening with Kinder Eggs?
In almost all cases, no refund is given, including when a parent’s bank card is used by a child without the parent’s consent. Sadly, the people who are caught out by this the most are the vulnerable, namely, children and people with disabilities or mental health issues.
Without any sort of intervention, either legally or from EA themselves, nothing will change. Check out an example for yourself here: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-48908766
If the UK places loot boxes under current gambling law, we will likely see PEGI 3 title FIFA have 18+ age restrictions and gambling awareness advertising in the game.
What can EA do?
Even if there are no restrictions placed on FUT, there are lots of things that EA can do to make their loot boxes more, as they like to say, “ethical and fun”.
For starters, the odds of getting each specific rating of player within a pack should be displayed. People buy packs because they harbour hopes of getting the game’s best players. However, if the consumers were aware that packs have as little as a 0.001% chance of containing those players, they may think again about splashing the cash.
Age restrictions and checks must be implemented; even if it only amounts to a parent having to provide consent for their child to purchase packs.
Finally, spending caps would have a hugely positive impact. If, after spending a set amount of money, purchases were blocked for the rest of the month, we would see far fewer stories of children spending their entire savings on packs.
Caps like these could be implemented in a way where each account has a base limit of, say, £20 a month. This cap could only then be edited by someone who can prove they are over eighteen years old.
Packs, an “ethical and fun” form of play, or a child’s gateway into gambling addiction? Have your say in the comments below.
Check out some of the ways FIFA can improve it’s gameplay here: https://www.gamingrespawn.com/features/49713/our-fifa-21-wishlist/