EA Games, the creator of the FIFA series, Madden NFL and Apex Legends has been slapped with two lawsuits in France over its loot box sales that threaten to dismantle its entire business model. The California-based games publisher, which is one of the biggest in the world, made over a billion dollars in the last quarter alone — mainly through microtransactions.
While EA has enjoyed reaping massive profits year after year, French lawyers are tackling the company’s use of loot boxes, which they argue are a form of unregulated gambling — and they’re not wrong. These loot boxes, which are sold for a couple of dollars a pop, scratch the same itch as a slot machine, offering buyers the chance to obtain items from a random selection of virtual items.
In EA’s FIFA games, these virtual items come mainly in the form of player cards through “FUT Packs” that give them an advantage in the game’s multiplayer mode. In other words, players who’ve paid the full $60 for the original game must spend additional money to remain competitive online. The model differs from Epic Games’ Fortnite, which provides players with a new selection of aesthetic items they can buy every day with the cost clearly displayed upfront. In Fortnite, you get what you pay for — in EA’s games, it’s a roll of the dice.
Paris-based lawyers Karim Morand-Lahouazi and Victor Zagury, both of whom represent two separate clients, argue that FIFA 20’s Ultimate Team mode is all about gambling, and the odds of winning are low. According to Zagury’s lawsuit, his client had very little to show after spending 600 Euros over a period of six months — an expenditure that caused him to fall behind on rent.
“Buying packs is nothing more than a bet. The logic of a casino has entered their homes,” Zagury told French publication L’Equipe. The developers of this game mode have created an illusionary and particularly addictive system. Today, an 11 or 12-year-old can, without restriction, play FUT and spend money because there is no parental control system in this mode.”
The lawsuits are calling for the game’s loot box system to be classified as gambling under French law, and for EA to disclose the algorithms and odds behind its microtransactions. It’s a fair request — and one that lawmakers in France’s neighbour, Belgium, agree with. Lawmakers in the United States and the Netherlands are also poised to take action against the practice. U.S. Senator Josh Hawley has introduced a bill to end the exploitative practice.
The only country to take a different stance, thus far, has been the UK, which claims that it isn’t the same as gambling because there’s no way to monetise the prize — a stance that ignores the fact that players often resell their “winnings” on auction house websites, especially in games like Valve’s CS: Global Offensive, where rare items are often valued at upwards of a thousand dollars.
Should legislation pass against loot boxes, EA Games, Activision-Blizzard, Tencent and other publishers will have to redesign their profit model to the benefit of gamers instead of using one that exploits their customers like marks in a casino.