Whether you’re opening FIFA packs or playing on a slot machine, it can be hard to know when to stop.
And that’s exactly how they want you to feel.
Variable-ratio reinforcement, a term coined by behavioural psychologists, is where a response is reinforced – or rewarded – after an unpredictable number of responses.
In other words, you’re never sure when you’re going to win, but you win just enough to keep you playing.
It’s extremely effective at creating a steady, high rate of response – or, in the worst cases, an addiction.
Lootboxes are in-game transactions designed to give the gamer an edge or unlockable item.
They’ve been around for years in mobile games but are now worryingly more common in ‘full price’ console and PC titles.
So, when you pay for a FIFA Ultimate Team pack, you’re essentially opening a lootbox of sorts.
Or, as would have been in the case in Star Wars: Battlefront II, you’d have to pay to get your hands on some of the most iconic characters in the series.
Thankfully, the gaming community revolted and gave EA a bloody nose by refusing to buy the game.
At one point, sales were down 61 per cent compared with 2015’s Star Wars Battlefront.
EA was given little choice but to backtrack and pulled in-game purchases from Battlefront II (temporarily, we must stress) following the backlash.
Not only that, but they’re now looking into a similar model present in Need For Speed: Payback.
But it gets worse.
Belgium’s gambling authority investigated Battlefront II over its lootboxes and concluded they are a form of gambling.
Belgian Minister of Justice Koen Geens added: “Mixing gambling and gaming, especially at a young age, is dangerous for the mental health of the child.”
The commission will now work with the European Union to push for a total ban.
Just hours ago, Hawaii’s Rep. Chris Lee denounced EA’s “predatory behavior” in a speech uploaded to YouTube.
In the clip, Lee described Battlefront II as a “Star Wars-themed online casino, designed to lure kids into spending money”.
He is proposing legislation for Hawaii that would prohibit the sale of games containing lootboxes to minors, a move he hopes will cause other states to follow suit.
On the other side of the world, Australian gambling regulators are also considering whether “loot boxes” in video games constitute gambling.
But why has it taken this long for the relevant authorities to take notice?
Amazingly, the UK Gambling Commission recently decided that lootcrates were not gambling as rewards were only usable in the game – a stance echoed by the US.
However, these views are now coming under intense scrutiny, with top gambling watchdogs calling for these ‘loopholes’ to be closed.
Marc Etches, head of the Gamble Aware charity, told the BBC it was increasingly worried about in-game rewards.
“It is becoming more and more difficult to distinguish between some increasingly common features in computer games and gambling,” he said.
“Current legislation was not designed for this technology and loopholes need to be closed urgently.”
So, what does this mean for Ultimate Team?
It’s looking as though EA will have to drastically re-think the entire model, which will be a major concern given the incredible amount of revenue Ultimate Team drives.
We doubt they’ll scrap the entire in-game purchasing model, but unpredictable FUT packs as they stand are dangerously close to gambling.
EA will likely have to provide visibility on exactly what each pack contains and price them accordingly. Although, as we’ve seen in the Battlefront II meltdown, this model brings with it substantial risks.
Something needs to change – and just like the Battlefront saga, gamers are coming together to ensure this gets pushed through.
A movement called #FIXFIFA has spread across the globe, calling on EA to fix the ‘broken’ game. Ultimate Team packs are just one of the key issues gamers want addressed.
With a change.org petition now boasting more than 23,000 signatures, EA will be forced to take notice.
However way you look at what’s going on with lootboxes, there’s only one winner. The gamers.
And at the end of the day, that’s all that really matters.
WATCH: Hawaii’s Rep Chris Lee lays into EA Sports