Leaked documents show EA’s focus on loot boxes

Given all the controversy aimed at Electronic Art’s loot box strategy over the years, one might imagine that the company would focus less on this element of its games—but it appears that the opposite is true. Leaked documents suggest that EA pushes FIFA 21 players toward the game’s FIFA Ultimate Team (FUT) online mode, where they can spend real money to buy randomized rewards. EA denies this is true, naturally.

CBC News obtained the 54-page document, provided by a “gaming insider,” which is said to be part of a “Run Up to FIFA 21” internal presentation from last year.

One section of the report, headlined “All roads lead to FUT,” notes that teasers and messaging “will drive excitement & funnel players toward FUT from other modes.”

The emphasis placed on promoting the loot box system seems apparent: “Players will be actively messaged + incentivized to convert throughout the summer,” the document states. “FUT is the cornerstone and we are doing everything we can to drive players there.”

FUT mode lets players use FIFA points—500 of these cost $5—to buy card packs that come with random rewards. It’s been a lucrative feature for EA; FIFA Ultimate Team hit a record six million daily users last December and was behind more than a quarter ($1.49 billion) of EA’s net revenue during the previous financial year.

Loot boxes were always a fairly contentious part of games that included them, but EA’s implementation in 2017’s Battlefront 2 caused worldwide outcry. A redditor calculated that it took “4,528 hours of gameplay (or $2,100) to unlock all base-game content in Star Wars Battlefront 2,” prompting the company to remove the in-game purchases.

In 2018, Belgium classified loot boxes as illegal, while 2019 saw a judge give the Netherlands Gambling Authority permission to fine EA $5 million over FIFA’s microtransactions. Additionally, a class action lawsuit filed against EA last year accuses it of running “an unlicensed, illegal gaming system through their loot boxes.”

EA has responded to CBC’s report via a statement on the company’s website. The gaming giant is “disappointed” by the article, which it calls “a sensationalized story with a misrepresentation of the facts.”

“We always look for opportunities to introduce more players to modes in our games. Our FIFA players are expecting fresh content that makes the service exciting, so that’s a constant focus for us,” EA said. “We do not ‘push’ people to spend in our games. Where we provide that choice, we are very careful not to promote spending over earning in the game, and the majority of FIFA players never spend money on in-game items.”

EA maintains that loot boxes are not gambling; it once referred to them as “surprise mechanics” that are “quite ethical and fun.”