Four years after Star Wars: Battlefront II’s disastrous launch galvanized the world against loot boxes, EA is still defending the exploitative microtransaction in its crown jewel: FIFA. In-game card packs don’t just make the publisher billions, EA swears that players love them too.
“We wholeheartedly believe that Ultimate Team and FUT Packs, which have been part of the game for more than a decade, are a part of FIFA that players love,” EA told Eurogamer in a statement yesterday. “Fans love that the game reflects the real-world excitement and strategy of building and managing a squad. Giving players the choice to spend if they want to is fair.”
The publisher’s latest endorsement of loot boxes comes as it prepares to launch FIFA 23, the last game in the series with the FIFA license before it’s rebranded as EA Sports FC. EA confirmed to Eurogamer that FUT Packs will return in the new game this fall, an announcement that comes a month after the UK government revealed it would not regulate loot boxes as gambling despite people who use them being more likely to experience “gambling, mental health, financial and problem gaming-related harms.”
For those who aren’t aware, Ultimate Team is FIFA’s most popular online mode. It revolves around creating a dream team consisting of players acquired from opening card packs. Higher-rated stars like Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi, and past icon Pelé perform better in matches, and are also extremely hard to get. The company calls it an innocent, fun “surprise mechanic,” and has maintained in the past that it’s definitely not gambling.
EA says it encourages players to earn packs by playing the game, but it still gives them the option to buy them outright for real money. Given the competitive nature of the mode, and the fact that there is an entire market around YouTubers and influencers glorifying pack opening in search of the rarest soccer stars, it’s not hard to see why that might be a bad idea.
While some big game companies have seen dips in their business this year, EA has continued flying high, in large part because of the ongoing success of its loot box-based Ultimate Team modes. EA told Eurogamer that only one in 10 players buys FUT Packs with real money, but the revenue speaks for itself. In 2020, the mode, featured in Madden and NHL as well, earned the company $1.62 billion. We don’t know how much it earned last year, however, because EA decided to omit the figure in its report for 2021. It’s no wonder, then, that EA continues to run interference for the controversial mechanic years after many other major games have dropped it.
As Eurogamer points out, there remains regulatory pressure in Norway, Belgium, The Netherlands, and other European countries, where FIFA is most popular, to crack down on gambling mechanics in games. In Belgium, where loot boxes have been outright banned, EA removed them from the game.