Investigate EA’s FIFA: Ultimate Team, groups urge FTC as loot-box backlash spreads
After consumer groups in Europe called for a crackdown on exploitative “loot box” mechanics in games, their American counterparts want in.
On Thursday, a host of advocacy groups petitioned the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to probe EA and its extremely popular FIFA soccer-game franchise—in particular, the FIFA Ultimate Team (FUT) online mode, in which players can spend money to competitively build their teams from different leagues.
Much of this is done by purchasing packs containing random players, using in-game currency that must either be earned the hard way, through lengthy gameplay, or simply bought for real cash.
Critics of such “loot box” mechanics—which earned the industry an estimated $15 billion in 2020—say they amount to gambling, which is particularly problematic considering how many kids play these games.
What’s more, they say the use of in-game currencies obscure the real costs to the player, and it’s also often not obvious how low the odds are of getting a good reward from buying the mystery pack—in this case, a high-performing soccer star such as FIFA cover star Kylian Mbappé.
The groups, which include the likes of the Center for Digital Democracy (CDD) and the National Council on Problem Gambling, say the FTC should see if EA is “engaging in unfair and deceptive practices in violation of Section 5 of the Federal Trade Commission Act.”
“Lootboxes, virtual currencies, and other gaming features are often designed deceptively, aiming to exploit players’ known vulnerabilities,” said CDD deputy director Katharina Kopp.
“Due to their unique developmental needs, children and teens are particularly harmed. Their time and attention is stolen from them, they’re financially exploited, and are purposely socialized to adopt gambling-like behaviors. Online gaming is a key online space where children and teens gather in millions, and regulators must act to protect them from these harmful practices.”
Attached to the petition is a copy of a report issued earlier this week by the Norwegian Consumer Council and 19 other European consumer groups, which also petitioned European authorities to do something about the loot-box trend in current games. That report came with dozens of pages of evidence, with EA’s FIFA 22 game featuring heavily.
EA, which had at the time of publication not responded to a request for comment regarding the FTC petition, argued earlier this week that it strives “to empower players and parents with as much information and control as possible to make informed choices for themselves and their children.”
The FTC held a workshop on the loot-box issue back in 2019—the same year conservative senator Josh Hawley introduced bipartisan legislation to ban the sale of loot boxes to children; little has been heard of that initiative since.
The agency came away from the exercise noting that there were “significant questions about loot boxes,” and said it would “continue to monitor developments surrounding loot boxes and take appropriate steps to prevent unfair or deceptive practices.”