EA has expressed “concern” over a new law in the US that could see it banned from selling FIFA Ultimate Team packs.
Josh Hawley, the US senator behind a new law that could see some games that feature in-game payments banned, confirmed Fifa was being specifically targeted and that game companies were now “very worried”.
The proposed bill takes aim at the “compulsive microtransactions” that have been filling video game companies’ coffers for years despite complaints from parents and fears the loot boxes they often pay for may fuel a rise in gambling problems.
Talking to Kotaku, Republican Hawley said that adding loot boxes was effectively “adding casinos to kids’ games in an attempt to get them hooked, in an attempt to exploit them.”
“FIFA would indeed be covered by this legislation,” he said, before revealing that EA, who makes the game, had expressed “concern” over it.
The reaction of lobbyists also showed games companies were “very worried”, he said.
In Fifa, the popular Ultimate Team mode sees players of the game collecting real-life football stars to slot into their online teams.
Players are obtained through buying individually inexpensive packs of randomly selected digital cards, similar to the way that you get player stickers for a World Cup album.
Packs are bought with an in-game currency that can be earned through playing or bought with cash, and there is no way to guarantee getting any specific player you may want.
This means players can rapidly rack up large bills as they buy huge numbers of packs to find specific cards.
EA has insisted buying the packs doesn’t count as gambling, and made about £850 million in 2018 from Ultimate Team across all its sports games, accounting for 21 per cent of the firm’s net revenue, with the vast majority of that coming from Fifa games.
Hawley’s Protecting Children from Abusive Games Act would ban all loot boxes from games designed for children, and ensure that they are “walled off” from children who happen to be playing games which are designed for adults but also played by kids.
It would also ban the “pay to win” features commonly found in mobile games.
These are found in some Western games at the moment, but are much more prevalent in Asia’s biggest mobile games which some companies are looking to bring to the US and Europe.
Hawley said EA’s “concern” was “a good indication that we’re getting somewhere.”
“These companies have found a way to make whole gobs of money without really being upfront about it,” he said, slamming companies for trying to “extract money” from gamers “without regard to what that does to either in the case of gaming the game itself, and then to people’s general health and wellbeing.”
Belgium has already banned loot boxes, aiming at FIFA specifically.
Andrew Wilson, CEO of Electronic Arts said in May when the Belgium’a ruling first came down that doesn’t “believe loot boxes are gambling.”
This is because “players always receive a specified number of items in each pack, and secondly we don’t provide or authorise any way to cash out or sell items or virtual currency for real money.”
In the UK, the Gambling Commission is still looking at video game loot boxes.
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A commission spokesperson told The Sun that “the playing of a game for the chance of a prize of money/money’s worth is gambling under UK law… so, where in-game items that are derived from loot boxes can be readily exchanged for cash, the loot boxes themselves are likely to fall within the definition of gambling.”
Parliament, meanwhile, is looking at the issue through its Immersive and addictive technologies inquiry.
One of the things that ongoing inquiry is investigating include “links between gaming and gambling”, with the inquiry looking at whether in-game spending needs more regulation, especially in games like Fortnite and FIFA that target children.