EA Asserts FIFA Ultimate Team Loot Boxes Are Not Gambling
In a recent investors Q&A session with Electronic Arts (EA) executives, EA CEO Andrew Wilson pushed back on the suggestion that loot boxes are gambling. Wilson used FIFA Ultimate Team as an example in explaining EA’s position on the issue, which companies like Valve, Blizzard, and PUBG Corp. face at the moment.
Belgium’s gaming regulator recently decided that EA’s FIFA 18 violates its rules against gambling, due to the inclusion of randomized loot boxes. The Netherlands’ gaming regulator also ruled that 4 video game publishers had violated its gaming laws over the way loot box mechanics work in their games.
When asked about the legality of EA’s loot box content, Andrew Wilson did not take on the question directly. Instead, Wilson noted how EA is working with European regulators to assure FIFA Ultimate Team does not receive a rating as a gambling game.
Andrew Wilson on Loot Box Gambling
Andrew Wilson said, “We’re working with all the industry associations globally and with regulators in various jursidtictions and territories. Many of whom we have been working with for some time and who have evaluated and established that programs FIFA Ultimate Team are not gambling.”
The EA chief executive made a fine point of what he considered gambling — which in his opinion is paying real money cash on a resource or commodity which then can be converted to cash. Wilson said that his company does not “authorize” ways to cash out digital currency or commodities for real-world money. Under those terms, EA does not support gambling.
Since FIFA Ultimate Team does not have real-world value associated with in-game enhancement, their loot boxes are not gambling. Andrew Wilson added that EA currently is working with multiple regulators to eliminate third-party auction sites. Wilson said, “While we forbid the transfer of items or in-game currency outside [the games], we also actively seek to eliminate that where it’s going on in an illegal environment. And we work with regulators in various jurisdictions to achieve that.”
Eurogamer Article on FIFA 18
USGamer fired back at that assertion by referring to a report on FIFA 18’s real-money cashouts published by its sister site, Eurogamer. Eurogamer writer Wesley Yin-Poole wrote, “In FIFA, as so many fans of EA’s all-conquering football series know, you can buy FIFA Coins with real world money. And with those FIFA Coins you can buy packs of cards for use in FIFA Ultimate Team, the series’ most popular mode and the one that makes EA so many millions of dollars each financial quarter.”
Wesley Yin-Poole noted, “Pay your money, buy a pack and roll the dice.“
Mr. Yin-Poole noted his love of loot boxes and ability to resist buying FIFA 18’s FIFA Ultimate Team coins to that point, but discussed how many players buy FUT coins and trade them on third-party loot box auction sites. On black market sites like MMOBUX.com FIFA Ultimate Team players can buy and sell their FUT coins for real-world money.
Using auction websites, players can sell the Ultimate Team card pack for real-world money. A player thus makes an in-game purchase using real-world money for an Ultimate Team card pack, this card pack is randomly produced with virtual players of high or low value, and then players sell these card packs on third-party sites to cash them out for real-world money. Many, if not most, video game players believe this amounts to gambling.
FIFA Ultimate Team Black Market
The Eurogamer article noted, “The FIFA Ultimate Team black market is huge, despite EA’s attempt to combat it over the years. Frank Lewis, head of marketing at MMOBUX.com, a marketplace that matches up those who want to buy in-game currencies with real money from sellers, says the market for FIFA coins has grown steadily since the release of FIFA 15 back in 2014.”
While EA has tried to eliminate third-party loot box sites, it has been unable to do so. The lack of oversight on third-party sites make the transactions all-the-more troubling. Underage players and adult game enthusiasts alike can buy and sell FIFA 18 content for real-world money.
Does Randomization Makes Loot Boxes Gambling?
As always with loot boxes, it is the random nature of loot box generation that brings the element of gambling into the game. Often, free-play players do not like when video games and online games allow real-money upgrades, because it allows lesser players to upgrade without playing the game and, in some cases, unbalances the game altogether.
Game balance disputes are a nuisance that game designers and their publishers have to hash out with players, because they do not want to offend customers too much. Still, the inclusion of loot is not the gambling-related concern which has European gaming regulators concerned.
It is when a person pays real-money to receive a random upgrade that constitutes gambling in the eyes of regulators and game enthusiasts alike. By randomizing content, it creates a market for real-world auctions on third-party sites.
Loot Box Gambling Debate Summarized
Andrew Wilson would say that EA does not allow their gaming content to be sold directly for real-world currency, while they are taking extraordinary measures to assure third-party auction sites cannot sell game content indirectly. Outraged fans would argue that EA could shut it down immediately by eliminating randomized loot boxes — but that would eliminate a main profit driver for EA and its rival game publishers.
The lines of argument are drawn and the debate over loot boxes appears as if it will continue through 2018 and beyond. In fact, it might get more intense in the coming months, as the UK Gambling Commission likely will draw its own line on the loot box debate. An online petition to the British House of Commons is going to require MPs to debate loot boxes on the floor of the British Parliament.
UK Gambling Commission Decision Coming
The UK Gambling Commission is going to be drawn into the debate, whether its new commissioner wants to be or not. The UK Gambling Commission’s decision could have tremendous impact on the loot box debate, because the UK is a key gaming regulator and many global regulatory agencies follow its lead.
In an ominous sign for EA, Valve, Epic Games, Blizzard, and other publishers, the UK Gambling Commission said it has noticed a “growth in examples where the line between video gaming and gambling is becoming increasingly blurred” and that UK parents “undoubtedly expect proper protections to be put in place“ — even if loot box content does not match the traditional definition of gambling.