If you want a little insight into just why and how EA has put so much faith into microtransactions, and destroyed the goodwill of the fans with Star Wars Battlefront 2, then look no further than FIFA 18’s Ultimate Team mode. Comfortably the most popular game mode in FIFA for years, around 75% of EA Sports gamers play Ultimate Team, and half of those people spend money on microtransactions.
"Today about 70-75% of all the people that buy the sports games join Ultimate Team," EA CFO Blake Jorgensen said during the NASDAQ 37th Investor Program, referring to both FIFA 18 and Madden 18. "It's fun. It's a great way to play the game. Of those 75% of the people, about half of those people actually spend some money and the other half just play without spending. But in a free-to-play world, that's a fantastic balance of spenders and non-spenders."
In total then, around 35% of FIFA 18 total player count is spending cash on currency in order to buy randomised card packs. To put that into perspective, last year’s FIFA 17 was the bestselling console title in the world, shifting an estimated 16 million units. That means around 4.5 million FIFA players are purchasing microtransactions every year, while a further 4.5 million are happy to play a game mode that is wholly supported by in-game purchases.
For the uninitiated, FIFA’s Ultimate Team mode is perhaps a far more egregious version of the loot crate system used in Star Wars Battlefront 2, and FIFA fans have been getting used to the system for years. In this mode, players build their own teams based on cards received from card packs of varying quality. Inside there are players, cosmetic items, and other boosts such as contract extensions, heals to injuries, stat boosts, positional changes and more. The more expensive card packs you buy, the greater your chance of having better players in your Ultimate Team.
Getting the players is just half the mission though - players are only in your team for a limited number of matches, with contract extensions required to keep them. The better the player, the more costly their contract extensions. You can quickly begin to see the money loop here in FIFA 18, where fans are keen to buy packs in order to get a better team, and then encouraged to keep buying more in order to sustain that quality.
Jorgensen’s kind of the nose with his description of Ultimate Team, even if his opening salvo is a bit of misnomer. “We spend very little time trying to get people to spend more money. We really try to spend most of our time getting people into the funnel because we know once they're into the game, they'll really have a good time, and they'll play it for a long period of time."
This system has been a part of FIFA for years now, but there are fewer complaints. This could be down to a number of factors, likely including its particular fan base and fact that there are heaps of game modes you can play where Ultimate Team isn’t even a factor. I myself am part of the 30% who players FIFA but doesn’t touch the Ultimate Team mode, for example, so they don't really both me.
At their core, in-game purchases are clearly a system that's working in EA's favour. Its sports titles are its biggest earners and it's obvious why EA's decision makers would want to see its money making systems creep into other titles.
Considering the sheer numbers of people happy to pay for microtransactions, which dispels the 1% 'whale' myth, do you think they're here to stay in AAA titles? Let us know your thoughts!