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1665070cookie-checkShould Loot Boxes Be Considered Gambling?
11 November 2021

Should Loot Boxes Be Considered Gambling?

While FIFA 22’s release was highly anticipated by many, there’s no doubt that it’s been marred by the recent scandals that have followed EA in the news over the last few months. FIFA Ultimate Team (FUT) is a part of the main FIFA game where you can build your perfect team with any player. They can be from any league and any team so that you can create your dream team as if the rules didn’t exist. FIFA Ultimate team is technically free to anyone who has bought the game, but in practice, it’s more of a money-making ploy for EA.

What’s The Controversy Surrounding FIFA 22?

While FUT is available as a part of the standard game, players are heavily encouraged to spend real-world money on buying packs. These packs guarantee that the player will receive new team members, but the footballers that you receive are randomly selected from a list. This means that in order to receive a specific player you might have to buy multiple loot boxes, meaning that these “micro transactions” can really start to add up. Critics have likened this in-game mechanic to a form of gambling. Like slot machines, you put money in with the hopes of hitting the jackpot – in the case of FIFA, the “jackpot” is a more sought after player.

But Isn’t Fifa Aimed at All Ages?

One of the biggest concerns about these micro-transactions being similar to gambling is that a lot of FIFA players are under 18 – the legal age for gambling in the UK and many other countries. This mechanism encourages players to gamble at an age that isn’t just illegal but when they’re most impressionable, which could potentially form a longer-term addiction in future.

While critics have been shouting about FIFA’s thinly veiled gambling mechanics for years, it’s only recently that the UK media have finally picked up on it, after CBC reported on a leaked 54-page document that was shared internally at EA that discussed driving players to spend more money. One bullet point in the document stated that EA were “doing everything they could” to encourage the pay-to-win model.

What Does The Media Think?

The Daily Mail reported on research that suggested that one in four children end up addicted to buying player packs to boost their performance in-game. The study also found that one in six children had stolen money from their parents to pay for loot boxes that cost up to £80.

Despite the UK media widely discussing EA’s questionable practices, it seems that little is being done so far. Rather than discussing steps that they would take to lessen the feel of gambling in-game, the company simply denied any link. In a statement, EA said, “We firmly disagree that FIFA or any of our games involve gambling”. “Regulators in multiple countries around the world have stated publicly that where there is no cash-out method, loot boxes do not constitute gambling”, although many people have taken issue with this part of the statement.

What Are Critics Saying?

Critics have likened this way of playing to various mobile casinos and they could very well be right. Research by the GambleAware charity found that 40% of children who play video games had opened loot boxes. 12 out of 13 studies on the loot box mechanic established “unambiguous” connections to problem gambling behaviour. These studies prompted governments to step in. The Netherlands Gambling Authority declared loot boxes illegal as they considered them a game of chance. This violated the country’s gambling act which resulted in EA receiving a €10m fine. Now the UK Government has also stepped in, calling for evidence of concerns that loot boxes are “training children to gamble”. If the investigation results in loot boxes being classified as gambling then games could be forced to carry an 18+ age rating. However, many campaigners argue that in practice it will make very little difference as parents would be likely to buy the game for their children anyway.

While the UK Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport is investigating EA’s in-game mechanics and potential link to gambling, it’s unlikely that much will change. While an 18+ sticker may result in a slight drop in sales it won’t have a massive impact, and €10m is pocket change to a company like EA. Sadly, the only way that this will be stopped is if customers vote with their money and stop paying.

The Future of Loot Boxes Within Games

It is unlikely that we’ll see a decrease in the number of people buying Fifa games and even if we did, the decrease that we see is unlikely to make much of a dent. However, that doesn’t mean that we won’t see a change. The Government are certainly already interested in the goings-on surrounding loot boxes and them being included in gaming and have started an investigation. We already know that over the last year gambling regulations within the UK have become much stricter – you even have to be over the age of 18 in order to buy a lottery ticket! With regulations becoming stricter surrounding affordability within the gambling industry and ensuring that vulnerable gamblers are protected it seems likely that at some stage in the future, microtransactions like these in games will become under the same guidance.

The exact regulations that will be introduced are yet to be announced, likely because investigations are still ongoing and decisions have not yet been made, however, it is widely recognised that computer games like this are marketed at children and as such, including ways to gamble with real money is not massively appropriate. It may be that two versions of the game will need to be released in the future, or perhaps microtransactions like this will be banned completely. Truth is, we’ll have to wait and see what the future holds but most people expect there to be some changes coming in the not so distant future.

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