As games go, FIFA has to be one of the most popular ever released. This is a franchise from EA sports that first launched all the way back in 1994. The concept was simple enough: football is the most popular sport in the world so any decent football-related game was bound to do well. What the FIFA franchise did was allow for the most popular players the world over to appear in-game format.
This is something that fans of the sport went wild for. Since its initial launch in 1994, FIFA has been back with yearly releases, By 2021, the game had sold a total of 323 million copies. While this is a success that should be celebrated, the game has continually been dogged by the same controversy – loot boxes.
The issue here is that rather than celebrating the new release each year, we are instead taken back to the same old arguments. This is a huge distraction from the game actually is and how well it is received by fans. FIFA has gone way beyond a hobby for teenagers to enjoy in their bedrooms. It is now a firmly established part of the lucrative esports market. This alone gives reason for the game to clear up its act.
What is the fuss about loot boxes?
In case you are not sure what loot boxes are then these are all about micro-transactions that occur through a game. Loot boxes are commonplace in games that can be played for free. Think of the likes of Candy Crush that can be downloaded onto a smartphone free of charge. While these free games generate an income through ads revenue (those annoyances every time that you complete a level) they generate more cash through loot boxes.
These micro-transactions see players using real money to buy random items during the course of a game. Perhaps the most common example that you’ll see is the likes of crystals and gems. Often these can be won as part of the gameplay, but using real-world money can see you accessing more and these will often give you a boost in the game.
When it comes to FIFA, these loot boxes come in the form of the Ultimate Team Mode. In this mode, there are players hidden behind random boxes. Your money unlocks these boxes and sees you rewarded with a new player. One with better stats and performance.
Do these micro-transactions even matter?
The issue with these micro-transactions is how they see people approach the game. What begins as fun almost turns into gambling. You are paying to open a box with no idea of what you are going to win. This is pretty much the same as how many games of luck work. In fact, these packs have been likened to mechanisms found in new slot games and are certainly indicative of gambling.
Now, gambling in itself is not an issue. Consenting adults are free to take part in this as an activity and it is actually one of the most popular pastimes the world over. The issue comes when you look at those under the age of 18 who are playing the game and those who may have prepositions to gambling addiction.
Certainly, with those classed as children, the case is clear: there should be no form of gambling. The waters may be a little muddier when it comes to adults. The argument is that these adults are not choosing to enter an environment where gambling takes place. They are purchasing a game but then, as a by-product, being exposed to this without choice.
What has the reaction been to FIFA?
While the FIFA franchise of games comes in for a lot of stick where loot boxes are concerned, these are not an exclusive feature of the game. You can find them in numerous games that are both purchased or downloaded for free. The reality is that millions of people are being exposed to a world that they may not wish to explore.
This has led to countries such as Belgium responding with outright banning the use of loot boxes or at least ensuring that there is strict regulation surrounding them. One of the biggest markets for FIFA can be found in the UK. Here the government is set to consider loot boxes and if they require further regulation and control to protect those who are seen as vulnerable.
How have EA sports reacted?
The game maker itself is EA Sports which is based in Canada. The company has been spoken to numerous times about micro-transactions but it remains bullish and doesn’t really see these as an issue. The main argument provided is that only a small percentage of players are under 18 and so children are not being exposed to gambling.
When considering how perhaps vulnerable adults are being exposed, the response is that only a small proportion of players go on to spend real money in the game. Ultimately, EA Sports don’t see this as an issue and have no intention of removing the feature from the game.
Why Canada is significant
It is perhaps surprising that a game that has been criticised for encouraging gambling comes from a game maker based in Canada. This is a country that has strict laws that cover all forms of gambling including sports betting. That being said, regulation C-218 has recently been approved and this is seeing a softening to the approach that has previously been taken.
While Canada is a long way off embracing the gambling industry, C-218 is an important step forward and one that has taken many years to achieve. The loosening of gambling restrictions will be great news for the iGaming industry as well as sportsbooks. It would also be seen as a welcome boost to EA Sports and would give them the backing of its government. The coming years will see whether Canada follows through or whether legislators will do what they have done previously – place impassable obstacles to stop the industry driving forwards.
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