EA's sports game loot boxes, bristling with Ultimate Team member choices, have been quite controversial, not just in the games industry but in the wider scale of things. The problem for EA is that gamers paying money to get the randomised loot boxes, to enhance their sports teams, seems a bit like gambling. Everyone knows that if something quacks like a duck, and it walks like a duck, it is probably a duck.
EA continuously tries to wiggle from the hook engraved with the words 'gambling gateway drug', which is understandable, as in FY2021 a massive 30 per cent of its revenue (about $1.62bn) came from ultimate team modes sales across its sports titles. However, increasing numbers of academic, governmental, and legal studies link loot boxes and problem gambling behaviour.
Now there are signs that EA is looking for an escape hatch to implement when/if world governments close down the extremes of the gaming loot box industry we see at this time. An official blog post shared by EA on Friday, and spotted by Eurogamer, shares details of an "an exciting new addition to the Festival of FUTball campaign". This exciting change is that gamers will be able to preview the contents of the loot boxes – the Ultimate Team packs…
For a limited time, gamers can enter the FUT Store in game and select a Preview Pack to preview the contents. This allows you to peek in the pack without paying up with your in-game earned FUT Coins or real money bought FIFA Points. After selecting the preview, you will see the full contents of the 'loot box' and be able to decide whether to buy it or not. Unfortunately, the mechanism doesn't highlight any duplicates of team members you already have access to.
Further important mechanisms are that you appear to have 24 hours to return to this same preview pack to go through with the purchase – this is the 'refresh timer'. There is another timer to pay attention to – the availability of this pack in the FUT Store timer. Furthermore, there has been implemented a limited global availability number for each of the packs. I don't know what happens after you buy a preview pack - whether you can 'roll the dice' again to buy another of the same packs (with different random player content) or if that slot in the store becomes unavailable.
EA doesn't clearly reveal why it is testing the waters with its Preview Packs, only that it is "constantly looking to improve the FIFA experience for everyone". I think it is wise for the business to test this method as a way to swerve stronger regulation in regions / countries where regulators have decided the previous 'loot boxes' and blind purchasing methods really are gambling.
The UK's DCMS has been looking into the loot boxes / gambling crossover issue since 2019 but isn't expected to announce any actions until 2022.