Former EA Sports President Peter Moore has said that he believes loot boxes are not a form of gambling, despite an increasing number of people believing them to be so.
The industry veteran acted as President when FIFA Ultimate Team card packs were introduced in 2008’s FIFA 09, allowing players to purchase player packs with real money to randomly unlock football players and build a team.
Discussing the FIFA Ultimate Team card packs in an interview with gamesindustry.biz this week, Moore likened the controversial microtransactions to collecting “cigarette cards in the 1920s and 30s”.
He said: “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. You’re always getting something. It’s not like you opened it and there’s no players in there.”
Moore then claimed that FIFA Ultimate Team loot boxes are a “long way” from gambling, saying: “This is a personal view, but the concept of surprise and delight vs gambling… on a continuum, they’re a long way from each other.
“You buy or grind your way up to getting a gold pack, you open it up, and you’re either happy or you think it’s a crappy pack. I don’t see that as gambling, per se – but again, this is my personal view as an outsider right now.”
Over the last few years, loot boxes have faced increased scrutiny within the video games industry as the mechanics have been likened to gambling and have been banned in several European countries as a result.
Moore, who also served as the Vice President for Xbox and President of Sega of America, claims he understands the backlash against loot boxes but highlighted how a majority of the gaming community has supported loot boxes, with EA’s Ultimate Team packs making more than $1 billion for EA Sports in the last two years.
“The numbers speak for themselves. And if you play it, you love it. One of the only complaints we got about Ultimate Team while I was at EA was if the servers went down and they couldn’t play or open their packs.
“It has really developed a service element to the game itself, and pretty much reinvented [what] FIFA was all about in a period where sports games were relatively stagnant.”
The backlash against loot boxes hit an all-time high back in 2017 with the release of EA’s Star Wars Battlefront II as loot boxes within the game provided players with substantial gameplay advantages against other players.
Said items could be unlocked in-game, but players would on average have had to “grind” to earn them and the loot boxes were criticised for stagnating game progression. EA, however, defended the mechanics, prompting further backlash.
The controversy over Star Wars Battlefront II and its loot boxes led many European countries to launch investigations into the mechanics regarding their similarity to gambling due to being chance-based and investigations into the game and other titles with loot boxes.
In 2018, the Dutch Gaming Authority and Belgian Gaming Commission declared loot boxes illegal and banned them from video games, forcing all game publishers to remove the controversial mechanics from their games.
Meanwhile, the UK Gambling Commission issued a statement in July 2019 stating that they could not regulate loot boxes in the country under current law but insisted it was ready to regulate them should legislation change.
Several months later, the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport urged the UK Government to take steps to regulate loot box mechanics under the Gambling Act 2005. Less than a year later, the Department of DCMS announced the launch of an investigation into loot boxes with a call for evidence from game developers.
The Government confirmed last year that it would be addressing loot boxes in its ongoing review of current gambling legislation.
Although loot boxes were banned in countries like Belgium and the Netherlands, EA reportedly launched a review of the terms of play for its Ultimate Team packs in Europe back in December 2020 due to lawsuits against the company over the controversial mechanics.
As reported by FocusGN, the publisher released a patch late last year which disabled the packs in countries where loot boxes were banned. Users who attempted to access the packs would trigger a warning which reads: “FIFA Ultimate Team is currently not accessible due to a demand from the authorities of your region.”
Meanwhile, the US District Court of Northern California filed a class-action lawsuit against EA in November 2020 over its alleged use of Dynamic Difficulty Adjustment, a mechanic which adjusts the difficulty of a video game to push players towards buying loot boxes.
As reported by NME, the lawsuit states: “EA’s undisclosed use of Difficulty Adjusting Mechanics deprives gamers who purchase Player Packs of the benefit of their bargains because EA’s Difficulty Adjusting Mechanisms, rather than only the stated ranking of the gamers’ Ultimate Team players and the gamers’ relative skill, dictates, or at least highly influences the outcome of the match.
“This is a self-perpetuating cycle that benefits EA to the detriment of EA Sports gamers, since Difficulty Adjusting Mechanisms make gamers believe their teams are less skilled than they actually are, leading them to purchase additional Player Packs in hopes of receiving better players and being more competitive.”
EA, which has previously denied using Dynamic Difficulty Adjustment in its games, issued a statement responding to the lawsuit, stating: “We believe the claims are baseless and misrepresented our games, and we will defend.”