EA purposefully drove players toward gambling-like microtransactions in FIFA 21, according to an insider who leaked internal documents to the CBC. “Video game company wants to make money” isn’t exactly a bombshell, but in light of EA’s long-held stance on loot boxes and microtransactions, the 54-page document might raise an eyebrow.
FIFA 21 features microtransactions as part of its FIFA Ultimate Team mode, which allows you to use FIFA Points to buy card packs that offer randomized rewards. (You can buy 500 FIFA Points for $5.)
If you think that sounds like gambling, an increasing number of governments and politicians seem to agree. Belgium outright deemed loot boxes illegal in 2018. Last year, a Dutch judge gave the green light for the Netherlands Gambling Authority to fine EA $5.85 million over FIFA’s microtransactions. Closer to home, American insurrectionist Josh Hawley brought an anti-loot-box bill to the Senate floor in 2019.
And yet, EA has historically insisted that microtransactions don’t constitute gambling. In 2019, an EA executive described loot boxes—called “surprise mechanics,” in EA’s internal parlance—as “quite ethical and quite fun.” Peter Moore, the former head of EA’s sports division, said in an interview this year that he doesn’t view FIFA’s microtransactions as anything like gambling, likening them to packs of sports cards and pointing to the staggering profits generated by Ultimate Team as proof that players loved them.
Today’s CBC report cites a document leaked by an “EA insider” who wished to remain anonymous out of concern for their career.
“Players will be actively messaged [and] incentivized to convert throughout the summer. [FIFA Ultimate Team] is the cornerstone and we’re doing everything we can to drive players there,” reads one slide. Another mentions “a welcoming experience” featuring “Updated [FIFA Ultimate Team] Welcome Pack content to kick-start experience so new players can hit the ground running.”
In recent years microtransactions have become a huge moneymaker for EA. According to a recent earnings call, FIFA Ultimate Team reached a new high of six million daily users in December 2020. On that same call, EA said that the company took in nearly $4 billion in revenue from “live services”—basically, microtransactions—and that performance for FIFA Ultimate Team swelled by 177 percent year-over-year. Per gamesindustry.biz, FIFA Ultimate Team is responsible for more than a quarter of EA’s net revenue.
Read the CBC’s whole report here. Fascinating stuff.
Update, 6:15 p.m. ET: EA PR sent Kotaku a link to their response to the CBC’s reporting. “We do not ‘push’ people to spend in our games. Where we provide that choice, we are very careful not to promote spending over earning in the game, and the majority of FIFA players never spend money on in-game items,” the statement reads. “Nothing in the leaked document contradicts this in any way—it shows how we are supporting engagement in our game during the summer period, not spending.”