Over the last few months, there has been a significant debate about loot boxes in video games and whether they constitute gambling. Several states in the USA, as well as commissions and regulators in other countries around the world, have launched investigations into the matter. Most recently, Belgium deemed loot boxes illegal and asked for them to be removed from games.
However, many figures within the video game industry have maintained that video game loot boxes are not gambling at all. Speaking during the company's latest financial call, EA CEO Andrew Wilson defended the business model, saying that “we don’t believe that FIFA Ultimate Team or loot boxes are gambling.”
Looking at FIFA Ultimate Team, which allows players to purchase card packs containing players, cosmetics and consumables, Wilson noted that players who purchase card packs "always receive a specified number of items." Moreover, "we don’t provide or authorize any way to cash out digital items or virtual currency for real-world money. And there’s no real-world value assigned to in-game items," added the EA executive.
Wilson also noted that EA has been working with regulators for a long time and "they have evaluated and established that programs like FIFA Ultimate Team are not gambling." The publisher also continues to work with regulators in order to crack down on the transfer of in-game items and virtual currency that takes place outside of the game, or when it is conducted in an "illegal environment."
It's unsurprising that EA - or any other company that employs loot boxes in its games - would defend the practice so ardently. Players would be hard-pushed to find a company that would actively push its practices in front of a bus. But it's also important to note just how much money is made from loot boxes and similar models, as FIFA Ultimate Team makes more than $500 million for Electronic Arts each year, and so the publisher has a vested interest in loot boxes and FUT card packs not being banned.
Unfortunately for EA, many regulators do not agree with the publisher, despite the company seemingly willing to cooperate with them. The Netherlands also deems some loot boxes as unlawful, with FIFA 18 rumored to be one of the games referred to in this ruling. Germany and the states of Hawaii and Washington have also considered or have introduced bills to ban (or limit) loot boxes. New regulations could force EA's hand, even as it maintains that loot boxes are not gambling.