The Netherlands Gaming Authority has levied a fine against the gaming giant Electronic Arts for what it defines as gambling in its latest FIFA games. The ruling comes down as part of a clamp down on loot boxes and other addictive chance based gaming elements in the Netherlands and Belgium. EA will have to pay €500,000 for every week it fails to remove gambling from FIFA 19, FIFA 20, and FIFA 21, up to a maximum of €10 million.
Loot boxes and gambling in FIFA and other games
Even if you’ve never played the FIFA games, you’ve almost certainly played something that featured loot boxes. Loot boxes are a reward mechanism by which players can pay to open a digital box which gives the player random in-game rewards, usually following a rarity structure to control drops. This feature has turned up in titles like Team Fortress 2 and Overwatch, as well as other EA titles like STAR WARS™ Battlefront™ 2 (2017).
Loot boxes have been criticized almost as soon as they become a common feature in games as taking advantage of younger players and players with gambling problems. Over the last few years, regulatory groups throughout the world have been working to have loot boxes, and other gambling-like features in games, regulated, restricted, or outright banned.
These strong measures are being considered mostly because loot boxes tend to appear in games commonly played by minors, and the companies which include them have shown little to no interest in making sure children do not have real life gambling in their games.
How are loot boxes and companies like EA being regulated?
Regulation against loot boxes varies greatly by country, but for the FIFA games the most important regulations come from Europe. The United Kingdom has been looking into what regulatory action they could take since 2017, but has yet to pass any legislation.
The Netherlands, by comparison, has been taking action to limit the sale and transference of items for the purpose of gambling since 2018. While it did not name the companies it had pressured, shortly after its announcement Valve disabled trading for Dutch players in Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, Team Fortress 2, and Dota 2, thus limiting the value of items gained through loot boxes.
A similar ultimatum was given to EA, who failed to act and attempted to challenge the penalty in court, which they lost. EA announced that they currently plan to appeal the ruling, but in the meantime they have just a few weeks to update their various FIFA games to remove loot boxes, or else pay the ever increasing fine.
Belgium has taken a similar stance against EA which has prompted the game company to limit microtransactions in FIFA for players in Belgium.
There have not been any announced penalties or actions for what should happen if EA should refuse to update FIFA, but any failure to act would likely result in a ban on the sale of the offending games within the affected regions. If these regulations grow to encompass the entire European Union the EA would not be able to ignore them.