EA Sports to allow ‘pack previews’ amid loot box probes

EA Sports is set to allow players to preview all FIFA ‘Ultimate Team Packs’ (UT Packs) before being purchased as part of a new update to the popular video game.

The games developer confirmed that it would launch a ‘preview pack’ update to its FIFA 21 games across all markets, allowing players to view items prior to being purchased with FIFA points and FUT Coins.

UT Packs can be purchased via FUT Coins awarded through gameplay or using FIFA points as an in-game currency purchased with real money.

The preview pack functionality has been added as a player option on ‘FIFA’s Ultimate Team Store’ (FUT Store), in which EA reassured customers that ‘previewing a pack does not mean you’ve made a decision to buy it’.

EA’s decision to disclose UT Pack items follows closer regulatory and media scrutiny of game pack and loot box rewards by video game publishers – in which EA’s FIFA has been at the centre stage of high-profile disputes.

Last year, the Hague High Court completed a two-year adjudication of EA’s penalty by Dutch gambling regulator Kansspelautoriteit (KSA), which deemed that UT Pack rewards to mirror ‘games of chance mechanisms’.

Siding with KSA’s assessment, the Hague court ordered EA Sports and its European subsidiary to pay the regulatory agency’s penalty of €5 million each for breaching multiple Dutch gambling laws.

The Dutch judgement would immediately be challenged by EA at an EU-level, citing that KSA offered no distinction or technical transparency to classify loot boxes as a gambling reward.

EA has faced further FIFA legal challenges in France and Belgium, where consumer groups have argued that the UT Packs should be classified as gambling products and that FUT Store access should be restricted to adults only.

In the UK, DCMS stated that it would proceed with its first review of loot box controls as part of its review of the 2005 Gambling Act, in which it promised MPs and the Children’s Commissioner to revise all laws directly impacting under-age audiences.

DCMS Sports Secretary, Nigel Huddleston, acknowledged growing concerns on loot boxes, but stated that the review needed a ‘clear picture on the market’ with ‘evidence to link loot boxes with problem gambling harms’.  

Supporting DCMS review, the Advertising Standards Association (ASA) has launched its own research consultation examining Loot Box engagements and in-game advertising.

ASA noted areas of public concern related to the ‘clarity of information at point of purchase‘, the advertising responsibilities of games publishers and the safeguards and rights of minors purchasing loot boxes.

FIFA UT Packs are highly lucrative for EA, as last year gaming industry news sources speculated that the games developer had generated an extra $1.49 billion in game pack sales classified in its financial accounts as ‘content sales’.

However, EA has not confirmed whether its preview pack update will be expanded across its portfolio of sports games including Madden Football, NBA Live, PGA Golf and Formula One Racing.

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