In an interview with CBC News, an unnamed source has shared an internal document that purports to show EA pushing players into purchasing loot boxes, a practice that has recently been the subject of a much-publicised lawsuit.
The document in question – a leaked 54-page presentation – appears to call the practice of purchasing loot boxes (the FIFA Ultimate Team mode, or FUT) the “cornerstone” of the game. It mentions that “all roads lead to FUT” and that “we are doing everything we can to drive players there”.
The method for “driving” players toward these purchases was mentioned on a further page, explaining how “content teasers” are able to “drive excitement & funnel players towards FUT from other modes”.
An EA spokesperson declined an interview request from CBC and wouldn’t comment on the document as it was “marked privileged and confidential”. They did comment that the document was being “viewed without context” and that interpretations of what it says “are misinformed.” When asked to clarify, he did not respond.
“All EA games can be played without spending on in-game items, and the majority of players do not spend,” Charlie Fortescue said in a statement.
Loot boxes – and the inability for players to know what they will receive before money changes hands – have been linked to gambling in new research from the universities of Plymouth and Wolverhampton. The research concluded that loot boxes are “structurally and psychologically akin to gambling” and that large numbers of children are spending real and in-game currency on them.
It was also discovered that around 5% of loot box purchasers were spending around £70 per month, generating over half of the industry revenue from loot boxes. The report confirms that one-third of these spenders “fall into the ‘problem gambler’ category.”
In September of 2020, the UK Government asked for research into the effects of loot boxes, asking for anecdotal experience to be shared. The subsequently announced inquiry aims to “seek the experiences of players and their parents or guardians as well as rigorous, high quality data and research from video games companies, academia, civil society as well as any other organisations with an interest in this issue”.
EA made $1.49 billion in 2020 from sports game loot boxes alone. The insider speaking to CBC was recorded as saying “You can play … without spending a dollar. But you’ll learn it takes a long time to earn coins and you’ll get frustrated pretty fast.
“For years … they’ve been able to act with a layer of plausible deniability,” the insider continued, “Yet in their internal documents, they’re saying, ‘This is our goal. We want people driven to the card pack mode.'”
Earlier in the year, former EA Sports president Peter Moore said that he did not view loot boxes as a form of gambling. Moore, who had been president of EA Sports when the company introduced Ultimate Team to the FIFA franchise in 2008, compared the mode’s randomised packs to “collecting cigarette cards in the 1920s and ’30s” while pointing out that players always receive something in return for their purchase.
“People loved it. I think that sense of uncertainty and ‘What are you going to get?’ and then bang, Ronaldo or Messi would roll out and that’s a wonderful thing,” he said. “You’re always getting something. It’s not like you opened it and there’s no players in there.”