How the Predatory Model of FIFA Games Creates Compulsive Gamblers

FIFA's Ultimate Team mode seeks to extract as much money as possible from the consumer.

Person playing FIFA 21 on a Play Station

We all know a friend or family member who spends like crazy on Ultimate Team players and can’t seem to control themselves. But beware, the problem is not in them, but in the design of the game. Photo: Unsplash

LatinAmerican Post| Juan Manuel Londoño

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Leer en español: Cómo el modelo predatorio de lo Juegos de FIFA crea adictos al juego

FIFA is the most popular soccer video game series on the planet. However, the sales model that it has acquired in recent editions seems to focus more on emptying the pockets of consumers than on creating a good experience. Some even argue that aspects of the game, such as the Ultimate Team mode, seek to create addicts to gambling.

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Although this may sound crazy, there are serious scientific grounds to believe that this is the case . We all know a friend or family member who spends like crazy on Ultimate Team players and can't seem to control themselves. But beware, the problem is not in them, but in the design of the game. Let's see why.

Lootboxes and unequal competition

It is important to mention that this business model is not exclusive to FIFA. This practice is part of a larger trend in the video game industry known as "lootbox ." These "boxes" are defined, according to Wikipedia, as "a virtual article of a video game which can be redeemed to receive a random selection of various articles of that game."

However, this definition falls a bit short. It is also worth mentioning that this "random selection" includes items of varying rarity. To give an example, in the case of Ultimate Team, the better a player, the more difficult it will be to acquire. The rarest soccer player, "The Ones to Watch", appear less than 1% in the Ultimate Team bundles .

This necessarily results in the players who spend the most money being more likely to acquire one of these rare players and thus have better teams. On the other side of the coin, players who do not spend money have a worse team and have to dedicate hours of their lives to the game to be able to get enough virtual coins to buy their favorite players.

At worst, spenders lose control and become addicted to searching for these rare virtual items. Those are known as "Whales".

Hunting whales

In July 2019, BBC news published a story that is becoming more and more common. The children of a British man had spent, over the course of three weeks, 550 euros on Ultimate Team packages . The father only realized his bank account was empty when he went to make another purchase and his card was declined.

There are thousands of stories like this and they don't necessarily involve children. There are several documented cases of adults losing control and spending huge amounts of money on these games on a daily basis. They are known as "whales" in the gaming industry.

The FUT package system is specifically designed to attract these whales. Not only for the advantages they give them in the game as such, but also in their visual design. When you got a rare UT player, there is a elaborate, colorful animation with attractive sounds. Just like the roulette wheels in the casinos. The more you win, the better you feel.

This relationship between loot boxes and gambling problems is growing so much that it is already raising the alarm in the scientific community. In the study “Video game loot boxes are linked to gambling problems: Results of a large-scale survey”, Dr David Zendle from York St John University investigated this relationship and concluded that:

“These results can confirm the existence of the causal relationship between the purchase of loot boxes and the gambling problem that was theoretically proposed . Due to the formal characteristics that loot boxes share with other forms of gambling, it is possible that they act as a "gateway" to gambling problems (..). Therefore, the more players spend on loot boxes, the more severe their gambling problem becomes.”

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