EA Remove FIFA Points from Belgian FIFA 19 Games
Electronic Arts (EA), producer of FIFA 19, announced that they will no longer be selling the ‘FIFA Points’ in-game currency in Belgium. EA decided to make the changes after the Belgian Gambling Commission threatened to sanction EA for promoting gambling.
Like so many other video games these past couple of years, it is FIFA Points “loot box mechanics” which drew the ire of Belgian authorities. Last April, Belgium determined that loot box mechanics were illegal.
After a world-wide controversy, several other countries — The Netherlands, China, Japan, Australia, and the Isle of Man — have banned loot boxes or booster packs as gambling. The random nature of the prizes, which players can spend money to unlock, is the part of the transaction which the Belgian Gambling Commission considers to be betting.
Along with Electronic Arts, Microsoft Games said it would make some adjustments in its games to ensure they meet the newly set requirements.
Belgian Ministry of Justice Involved
Koen Geens, the Belgian Minister of Justice, said, “Mixing games and gaming, especially at a young age, is dangerous for mental health. We have already taken numerous measures to protect both minors and adults against the influence of, among other things, gambling advertising.”
“That is why we must also ensure that children and adults are not confronted with games of chance when they are looking for fun in a video game.”
Why Loot Boxes Are Controversial
Many video games have in-game purchases of some sort. Loot boxes are prize packs that offer different ways of enhancing or assisting the player’s game. Loot boxes might be a new skin, a new piece of wardrobe, a new or upgraded weapon, or enhancements that better a player’s chances in the game.
In many games, upgrades can be unlocked for free through experience or achievements. At the same time, a player can buy the upgrades for anywhere between $0.99 to $99.99.
With each loot box you do receive an item, however, there is the catch — you won’t know what you get until it has been purchased and you can open it. Similar to baseball cards, sometimes you might get something you already have and other times you might get something new.
Buying Random Booster Packs
A good example of the system can be found in Call of Duty, a multi-player shooting game, players may receive rewards, like loot boxes, for their character leveling up or making it to the end of a multiplayer game without quitting.
Some loot boxes are given out by watching a short video clip, usually advertising a new game or product. You will find these a lot in digital games you might play on your smart phone or tablet. Most of the time people are not aware that these are actually loot boxes, but they are a form of them.
The big question is, when you are putting your personal money into a purchase without knowing the true value of what you are getting, is it gambling or just a game-within-a-game? The debate of where to draw the line is inconsistent throughout the world. France and New Zealand gave their approval to loot boxes. The United States and UK still have not decided. Belgium, on the other hand, has banned the game mechanic.
FIFA Ultimate Team Mode Changes
In FIFA 19, FIFA’s Ultimate Team mode (FUT), players had the opportunity to use their own personal funds to purchase FIFA Points. These could be used to buy packs which contained a mystery mixture of footballers that they can use in their teams.
When initially addressed about the use of loot boxes EA refused to remove their mechanics. They stated that the games publisher didn’t the mechanics practices did not follow what constitutes gambling. they believed that the packs more fell into the description of Panini stickers.
However, their refusal was short lived after the Belgian Gambling Commission threatened legal action. Gaming companies that do not comply with the 2017 legal changes could face fines of up to €800,000 (USD$912,617) or up to five years in prison.
EA said in a press release, “After further discussions with the Belgian authorities, we have decided to stop offering FIFA Points for sale in Belgium.”
They are not the only ones that were reluctant to comply with the Commission’s changes. Several other publishers were told to remove loot boxes from their games. One of them being 2K’s NBA series.
The new changes went into effect on January 31. The game no longer allows players to purchase FIFA Points with their own money. They will still be able to use any remaining Points still in their account they were previously purchased. Player packs will still be offered to players through coins that are earned playing that game.
EA Disputes Belgian Regulator’s Claims
EA continues to maintain their booster packs are not gambling. Their statement continued, “We seek to bring choice, fairness, value and fun to our players in all our games. In addition to providing players options in how they play, we include pack probabilities in our games for the transparency players want to make informed content choices.”
“While we are taking this action, we do not agree with Belgian authorities’ interpretation of the law, and we will continue to seek more clarity on the matter as we go forward.”
FIFA 19 is not EA’s first game to come under scrutiny. Back in 2016, the company saw a lot a backlash for their loot box mechanics in Star Wars Battlefront 2. The publisher was forced to change how the loot boxes were implemented. The game publisher dropped the mechanic in future games including Battlefield V and the upcoming Anthem.
Initially EA attempted to adjust the mechanics in the player packs in FUT. The game displayed the probabilities of acquiring certain levels of players before the pack was purchased. The decision did not go over well, because it was said to highlight the uncertainty of the loot box. Being that the highest-ranking players were typically given less than a one percent chance the “gamble” was still very much there, but this time is was made clear.
Epic Games also made changes to their loot box mechanics in Fortnite in order to comply with new regulation. Their adjustments involved making its ‘Llamas’ loot box transparent so that players can see exactly what is inside before that make their purchase.