Jun 2, 2022 - Technology

Child advocacy groups urge FTC to investigate FIFA video game

Illustration of a soccer ball made out of a patchwork of different bill denominations.

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

A coalition of child advocacy groups want the Federal Trade Commission to investigate Electronic Arts, warning the agency in a complaint Thursday that its popular FIFA video game exploits children and teens.

What's happening: 15 groups, including Fairplay and the Center for Digital Democracy, told the FTC that the game's use of loot boxes (boxes containing randomized virtual content, which can be bought with real money) exploits children by promising a competitive advantage and obscures the real cost with virtual currency.

  • The coalition also argues knowing the probability of unlocking the best items can be unclear and that it can cost thousands of dollars to get the most coveted cards.
  • They want the agency to investigate whether EA is engaging in unfair and deceptive practices in the design of the loot boxes.

How it works: Players of FIFA's Ultimate Team, a competitive online mode in the FIFA game, obtain the loot boxes — which contain player cards, team kits or badges — by spending real-world money on virtual currency or building up virtual currency through gameplay.

State of play: EA is already facing headwinds in Europe over the use of loot boxes to get a leg-up in the game, and the FTC has signaled the issue is on its radar as well.

What they're saying: "By relentlessly marketing pay-to-win loot boxes, EA is exploiting children’s desire to compete with their friends, despite the fact that most adults, let alone kids, could not determine their odds of receiving a highly coveted card or what cards cost in real money," Josh Golin, executive director of Fairplay, said in a statement.

  • "The FTC must use its power to investigate these design abuses and determine just how many kids and teens are being fleeced by EA.”

Between the lines: FIFA and Madden Ultimate Team are highly lucrative parts of EA's sports games, bringing in billions of dollars, but are often criticized as exploitative and quasi-gambling, Axios Gaming author Stephen Totilo notes.

The other side: EA has previously defended the game's design, telling Eurogamer in an October interview that players have a choice on whether to spend money to obtain the loot boxes — called packs — and that it has put probability information in the packs in an effort to be more transparent.

  • EA declined to comment on the complaint with the FTC.
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