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EA 'Funnels' FIFA Players to Ultimate Team, Raising Questions About Loot Boxes Once More

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FIFA 21

EA 'Funnels' FIFA Players to Ultimate Team, Raising Questions About Loot Boxes Once More

If you missed the news yesterday, Canadian Broadcast Company (CBC) dropped a news report leaking a supposedly “internal” FIFA 21 document where it states:

“FUT is the cornerstone and we are doing everything we can to drive players there.”

ea loot box

Shocker, right!

…Well, no. Still, in all seriousness, it’s no secret that FIFA’s Ultimate Team (FUT) is a cash-cow for EA, generating over $1 billion in revenue across EA’s suite of games as of the latest earnings report. It’s also no secret that companies would try to push their consumers towards highly profitable business models. To understand the uproar this has caused, let’s go back to the beginning.

FIFA 21 coins: make millions in Ultimate Team using Bronze packs and TOTW cards | GamesRadar+

If you’re unfamiliar with “loot boxes,” they are:

In video games, a loot box (also called a loot/prize crate) is a consumable virtual item which can be redeemed to receive a randomized selection of further virtual items, or loot, ranging from simple customization options for a player’s avatar or character, to game-changing equipment such as weapons and armor.

Loot boxes first started appearing circa 2004, initially for mobile games. EA first introduced them back in 2009 when FUT first made its appearance. Back then, FUT wasn’t nearly as popular as it is today, so the uproar around loot boxes is a more recent phenomenon. The uproar in the area of video game sports started to gain traction in 2018 when Belgium formally banned loot boxes under the country’s strict anti-gambling laws. While similar legislation has been pushed in countries like the United Kingdom and Canada, the United States has largely ignored chances to enact anti-loot box legislation. In fact, the US in general is making gambling laws less strict, and loot boxes generally tend to fall under that umbrella — even though these video game companies would try to tell you loot boxes are not gambling.

The general consensus among the anti-loot box crowd is that it promotes gambling, especially among children younger than 18. It also incentivizes a “pay-to-play” environment while discouraging traditional methods of “grinding” in lieu of instant gratification by purchasing in-game currency units with real money. While some games let you know ahead of time what you’re purchasing, games like FIFA often use “packs” where the outcome is random, which leads to that gambling “rush” — and millions of YouTube videos.

EA has denied all accusations when it comes to steering consumers towards FUT but, I mean, we’re not blind. We’re not saying EA only cares about Ultimate Team or anything, it just would be naive to ignore the revenue generated by these modes and how that would steer EA to look towards maximizing these modes.

While there are ethical questions around EA’s business practices (and 2K’s and so on), it also makes sense for EA to point gamers in the direction of its most popular game mode within FIFA. The profits EA generates from FUT are often dumped back into the game as things like licenses aren’t cheap, but how much responsibility does EA shoulder in keeping children away from gambling-like activities? Should parents foster some responsibility, as often it’s the parents whose credit cards are attached to their children’s gaming accounts. And what about content creators who often reach millions of impressions online for pack openings while saying stuff like “these packs are so juiced.”

According to the internal document that was leaked,

“All roads lead to FUT”

ultimate team loot box

Perhaps it’s the randomness of FIFA loot boxes, akin to a gambling slot machine that leads to so much scrutiny. Some “open world” games such as Assassins Creed incorporate in-game currency purchased with real money, but it’s slightly different from the FIFA model because you know what you’re going to get with your purchase. The excitement that comes with the randomness of FIFA pack openings is not really there for games like Assassin’s Creed.

EA has repeatedly stated over the years that loot boxes are optional, but anyone who has played FUT knows that the fastest way to put together a top squad in FUT is through using real currency. Most FUT players who start out as casuals quickly realize that the playing field is not level, which leads many to believe that they need to spend real money in order to “keep up” with others. After all, paying for your team in these Ultimate Team modes is so accepted now that it has generated a new form of “content” in terms of “no money spent” squads now getting popular on YouTube. In these videos, content creators don’t spend a dime while trying to create a great team that is successful.

The irony of EA stating this next bit is not lost on us either:

We also actively encourage parents to use the family controls available on the major game consoles, which allow parents or guardians to manage the type of content their children are allowed to access, whether or not their children can spend in games, how much they can spend and how much time they can play.”

FIFA is rated “E” according to ESRB, meaning that its content is generally suitable for all ages. Ironically, you don’t see the word “gambling” in the ESRB ratings until you reach “T” for Teen.

It’s hard to play FIFA frequently and not think that EA drives folks towards FUT. Daily and weekly challenges bombard your screen before the FIFA 21 menu loads. Patches usually start with FUT-related updates near the top of the patch notes, while a lot of the older crowd who have been with the FIFA series for years cite neglect on EA’s part in updating career mode or Pro Clubs. Even EA’s FIFA Twitter account regularly posts FUT-related content that often highlights gameplay that would make the hardcore sim crowd cringe.

Beyond that, Icon cards for legends such as Zinedine Zidane, Ronaldo, and more are often exclusive to FUT. Even worse, there’s a black market that has been created thanks to FUT Coins where people buy and sell the coins against EA’s best wishes.

Is buying FUT 21 coins worth it - thiswasmybest

Loot boxes can be a slippery slope, but so far EA and others have been able to navigate the waters without many legal issues. While the issue certainly won’t fade away given FUT’s popularity, those who oppose loot boxes have a legitimate gripe, especially those parents with children who frequently play the FIFA series. At the same time, EA is not alone in this practice (there are countless stories of parents talking about having huge credit card bills after their kids purchased tons of Fortnite skins and so on). Still, it seems like the gaming industry as a whole could at least do the bare minimum to try and regulate themselves to a degree where everyone agrees on best practices to avoid legal ramifications down the line.

Whether that’s completely tying loot boxes to cosmetic items or actually displaying the real odds for rewards in card packs (we’re looking at you NBA 2K with your percentages to pull a 90+ player, only just about everyone pulls the same 90+ overall player), there’s plenty of small things these companies could do to avoid some of this bad PR. Whether or not these companies will do that, or instead just fight it out in court if need be, remains to be seen.

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  1. Every time I turned on Madden this year, I menu always started on the Ultimate Team box on the menu, despite it being off to the side. I just assumed EA is trying to trick me into just hitting X when the game starts that I stumble into playing Ultimate Team and then spend a bunch of money there. "Good" to see it's pretty much by design.
    It reminds me of those late-loading ads that are too big on websites, and when they load they shift the page down to try and trick you into clicking them. I guess that's where EA fits about now.
    Great write up Kevin. I really enjoyed this article. 
    my thoughts: part of me despises card collecting modes, and the developers neglect towards more traditional modes because of it. But another part of me realized that the profits these modes bring in leads to things like better licenses as you mentioned. I just wish more developers put some of these resources back into single player modes. Often the ultimate team/myteam/diamond dynasty crowd gets blamed for single player modes shortcomings, but really it just boils down to greed on behalf of the developers.
    Maybe their NHL series UT isn't as profitable but that game let's you reorganize the menus so the modes you care about are listed first. First thing I did was move that off the start up screen. I would love to not be bombarded by a huge FUT tile or be funnelled to the game mode while I'm enjoying the part of the game I actually care about.
    Also not all loot boxes are the same. Example overwatch (at least last time I played it) the lootboxes had no effect on gameplay. You can be a highly ranked player and never spend a dime. The grind is completely optional and requires no money.
    EA makes it so that it's almost a requirement of you want to "compete". Of course you could grind your way but the grind on EA sports games require so much time and effort your falling behind or your card becomes obsolete.
    It's funny a few days after this article this addpop up on my PS5 explore tab. Love that it says FUT 21 and not FIFA 21. You would never see them promoting Franchise, Volta or Pro Clubs. At this point probably should just make FUT the official name.
    I've ever only played Pro Clubs, never felt "pressured" to play FUT. When I start the game, the menu item for last played mode is always highlighted, I just have to click X.
    Promoting FUT with ads / icons / banners / promos, in game or out of the game is elementary stuff. Annoying, but nothing you can't ignore.
    But now ask yourself why there's a "Competitor Mode" in career mode with AI that plays like a 5 year old FUT addict. Why this trash and not a sim mode? Why sliders can not make the game more realistic and in fact the last time they did anything new with them was back in Fifa 13 when they added 1st touch errors. (That was the last time EA touched sliders, that's 9 years ago now!).
    They really really want you to get used to fut (even when you're not playing fut) and the menus are frankly the last thing you should worry about, lol. We can all avoid entering Fut mode, no matter how they design the menu, but we can't avoid brain dead FUT gameplay and that's not an accident. It's their biggest & most profitable product, absolutely nothing is an accident or "broken".

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