Video game

Should Fifa Ultimate Team be classed as gambling?

Fifa Ultimate Team lets players put together a squad using virtual packs of footballers that can be bought with virtual or real money, but the mystery nature of what players you might get in each pack has caused some to complain that the packs are gambling and should be regulated as such.

For its part, EA has said it has “no ethical concerns” about offering these Fifa Ultimate Team (FUT) packs for sale and the UK’s Search Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport (DCMS) decided they do not currently consider it gambling. However, EA is facing a lawsuit in France over the packs, with the claimant arguing that the game has been misclassified as an online video game when it should in fact be classed as a casino game.

Older readers will remember the Panini football stickers that school kids would collect every World Cup, with some children making a serious profit if they lucked out and found a “rare” player in their new sticker pack, which also contained a “mystery” mix of players. Indeed, FUT has a lot in common with Panini stickers, but with the added gamification pressures and ease of purchase that comes with modern internet-enabled apps and games. The FUT packs are also significantly more expensive than their physical sticker counterparts, with a “rare gold” pack of 12 mystery players setting you back £10 (or 2,000 Fifa points).

Acting for the 32-year-old complainant, who says he has spent over £500 on the packs over the last six months, lawyers Karim Morand-Lahouazi and Victor Zagury explained to L’Équipe: “The developers of this game mode have created an illusory and particularly addictive system.

“We believe that a gambling game has been integrated into this video game because buying packs is nothing more than a bet. It is the logic of a casino that has entered their homes.”

As the sale of these packs are a hidden “feature” of the Fifa video game, players may be unaware that they have started to lose money gambling. At least when you lose money at French casinos online you know what you are doing and it is pretty clear that you have real money on the line. With in-app purchases, the seamless transition between game-play and real-money gambling could be confusing to many.

These “loot boxes” are already banned in the Netherland and Belgium, and if EA loses this lawsuit they could become banned across the EU. However, instead of banning them, maybe it would be better to reclassify the games as gambling and only offer them via official apps from the best online casino operators, so that everyone who plays them knows exactly what they are doing.

Photograph by Olya Adamovich

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