Loot boxes aren’t gambling, as I’m sure EA executives have told us many times over, but that hasn’t stopped Electronic Arts getting out in front of the recent furor and announcing that it will disclose the odds of FIFA Ultimate Team packs in FIFA 19.
I think once you get into the murky territory of the odds of getting the content you’re actually paying for, there’s a razor-sharp line between random bonus content and good old-fashioned gambling.
"For Ultimate Team, when you buy a pack you know what you are getting,” explained EA vice president Daryl Halt to Eurogamer. “You are getting a certain number of assets that are guaranteed—and we're going to start to do pack odds disclosures that'll show you the odds of what you might get. That'll be in our product year 19 titles. So, at least that aspect of understanding what the chances are of getting X, Y, and Z card."
The upside to this is that EA Sports fans should be a little wiser as to just how unlikely it is they get their shiny gold Coutinho, rather than going in totally blind. A small victory, for sure, and a tacit admission from EA that perhaps its card pack system is precariously balancing on the verge of gambling.
Nevertheless, Halt is keen to trot out the usual line that none of this in any way constitutes gambling, despite the investigations of the Dutch and Belgian gambling authorities.
"We don't believe in the gambling aspect of some of the mechanics we're introducing, because there is no real-world currency value to the packs," he said. "And there is the aspect of you know what you're getting with the packs in terms of the assets you expect to get."
It’s still darkly amusing to see executives try and sell us something which, on the one hand, they tell us is a fantastic purchase, while on the other, they desperately attempt to say has no actual value.
Things get murkier still when you take into account that spending more in FIFA 19 Ultimate Team will result in a player having a better team. There’s a direct correlation between the amount of money injected into the game and the quality of the players in the squad. Despite all this, Halt reckons it’s nothing like the Star Wars Battlefront 2 controversy because FIFA 19 is a more skill-based game. "You may have a higher-rated team than me in FIFA Ultimate Team and I can still beat you,” he said. What he neglects to mention is that victory would be a lot harder to achieve with a weaker team.
So, odds for loot boxes, is it a positive move? Or an admission that randomised loot really does have gambling elements?