Lawsuit Filed Against EA in France

The game developer, Electronic Arts (EA), will be taken to court in the coming months after two lawyers from Paris leveled claims against it regarding the FIFA game series. The lawsuits have been filed in order to argue that the Ultimate Team mode of the game should be labeled as a form of gambling.

A person holding an Xbox controller.

Many have criticized the use of ‘loot box’ mechanics in videogames. People have argued that the randomly generated rewards that are given in exchange for real money constitute a form of gambling and shouldn’t be in games that children play. ©superanton/Pixabay

The two lawyers from Paris, Karim Morand-Lahouazi and Victor Zagury have opened the case as they believe that the game mechanics involved in the Ultimate Team mode constitute a form of gambling and have therefore been misclassified as an online video game.

FIFA Ultimate Team relies on ‘loot box’ mechanics in which players will spend real-life money on ‘packs’ of players that will contain items with varying in-game value. The Ultimate Team game mode of the FIFA franchise is one of the most successful generators of commercial revenue of any game in circulation. Ultimate Team game modes across all of EA’s repertoire of games accounted for 20% of the net annual revenue for the developer in 2018, which equates to over £850 million. While it is unclear how much of this is specifically from the FIFA Ultimate Team game mode, EA did admit that it accounted for a “substantial portion” of its total revenue.

Many have argued that such mechanics are a nefarious system employed by game developers which encourage young people (often people who are not of a legal gambling age) to risk real money for an unlikely reward. Many critics have therefore drawn the comparison between ‘loot box’ mechanics and gambling and have argued that it should be clearly labeled as such, and that people should be more aware of the risks involved with gambling when playing these games.

One of the lawyers, Victor Zagury, has described the system implemented in the game mode as “illusionary and particularly addictive”. The lawyers’ client is a 32-year-old man called Mamadou. Mamadou has reportedly spent over €600 on the game mode since the release of FIFA 20 at the end of September 2019. The chauffeur by trade was dismayed by the fact that despite having spent 10 times as much money on Ultimate Team than the original cost of the game the best player he had won was the Napoli defender Kostas Manolas.

“Whenever I buy a pack, I tell myself that this is the last time, but I always do it again. You get so frustrated when you don’t get good enough players that you buy again and again.”

According to the claimant, he knows other people that have sunk €2,000 to €3,000into the game, and the mechanics by which the game mode is governed are responsible for the addictive nature of pack openings on FIFA. Mamadou has also claimed that the amount of money he is spending in-game on packs has caused him to fall behind on his rent payments.

Critics have pointed out that when people gamble in casinos, or online, they are very much aware of the nature of the companies whose services they are using. This means that consumers are able to make an informed decision on the nature of the operators and of the dangers associated with gambling. When gambling is disguised as a game, however, the predatory behavior of companies may not be as easy to see, which may contribute to the large numbers of people wagering huge sums of real money on in-game purchases.

Many have also pointed to the seemingly endless number of YouTubers who spend eye-watering sums of money on the game in videos they produce. These videos will often target children and it has been argued that they encourage a younger audience to take part in a form of gambling that is not adequately labeled or known about.

One example of this is the YouTuber ChrisMD, who has just under 5 million subscribers on the platform. This content creator spent over £6,600 on FIFA packs in a single sitting while trying to obtain the highest-rated players in the game.

These displays not only demonstrate the vast amounts that some consumers will spend in-game but also show how a young audience may be encouraged to spend money on the Ultimate Team game mode.

The Future of ‘loot box’ Mechanics

It is certain that such high-profile cases involving the implementation of ‘loot boxes’ into their games will worry game developers like EA.

As previously stated, these systems account for a massive proportion of the revenue that the game developer generates. Recently, however, more and more people have begun to question where they should fall in the eyes of the law.

In countries such as the Netherlands and Belgium, ‘loot box’ mechanics in games have been outlawed. The outcome of this upcoming court case in France could be very important for the future of randomly assigned in-game benefits across Europe. A blanket ban may be on the cards on the continent should the court rule against the game developer.

With growing numbers of reports involving young children emptying their parent’s bank accounts on in-game purchases without seeing the connection between ‘real’ money and the money they spend in the game; more people are waking up to the fact that these random in-game purchases may need to be re-classified as gambling.

If this were to happen, they would likely have to be removed from videogames that are often played by a younger audience. This could represent a serious threat to the revenue from games like FIFA, as well as other popular titles including Fortnite, Overwatch, and many others.

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