In FIFA, as many fans of the EA football series who conquer all know, you can buy FIFA coins with real-world money. And with those FIFA coins you can buy card packages for use in the FIFA Ultimate Team, the most popular mode in the series and the one that makes EA so many millions of dollars in each financial quarter. Pay your money, buy a package and roll the dice. Will I pack Ronaldo? Or Messi? Or a form? There is only one way to find out.
I'm a big fan of FIFA and I have a confession to make: I love opening packages. There is an emotion in it. Maybe this time I'll go out for a walk! My mind dares to dream in tempting moments before pressing the buy button now. I know I'm playing here. I know that the house always wins. But I can not avoid looking for more FUT Coins, the currency of the game that you can use to buy packages, then, when I have enough, roll the dice one more time. Rinse. Repeat. Better luck next time, buddy.
I have not spent real money on FIFA coins since FIFA 18 came out, but I've stumbled to the edge, usually at night while my wife and little son sleep. They will not know, I smile. I will pay with my account, not with the whole. Fortunately, FIFA 18, with its friendly squad combat mode, deals out coins and packets of FUT cards in one, well, I would not call it a generous way, but so far I've done it well enough to have a rating of 80 Equipment with limited game time. The thing is that I want better players and a better team. I will always want better players and a better team. There is no end in sight. I realize this. And, nevertheless, I live for every inch that I advance towards the search for the perfect definitive team.
As the debate over loot boxes and gambling bets, I can not help but wonder about Ultimate Team. Are you buying game card packages? I go back and forth in the answer. Sometimes I think, well, it's like buying football stickers. Of course it is not betting. Then, usually when I am desperate for another blow, I find myself convinced that it is.
The law says that loot boxes are not bets because the items that are obtained from them can not be exchanged for real life money. Here is the publicity, from the Gaming Commission:
"When the prizes are successfully restricted for use only within the game, such features within the game would not be licensed gambling."
The problem is that these prizes, or in the case of FIFA cards, can not be successfully restricted to be used only within FIFA 18. You can, very easily, withdraw money.
There are a lot of websites, some of which look pretty good and even have narrated tutorial videos, which will buy your FUT coins for real world money. These websites ensure that everything related to your standard Ultimate Team card package transaction has real value, albeit indirectly. Let's say you have a player you do not want. Sell it successfully at the official auction house of the game for FUT coins. Then, you can sell those FUT currencies on a third-party website for cash. So, the virtual card has an indirect value in the real world. It may not be much, but it's there.
The black market of FIFA Ultimate Team is huge, despite EA's attempt to fight it over the years. Frank Lewis, head of marketing for MMOBUX.com, a market that combines those who want to buy coins in the game with real money from sellers, says that the FIFA coin market has grown steadily since the launch of FIFA 15 in 2014.
"Although EA tried to avoid it a few years ago by establishing a price range, players are still looking for a way to buy coins," he says by email.
"In addition, thousands of people are even willing to sell coins to suppliers."
This is how it works: the most popular method to conduct a FIFA transaction on the black market is through a player auction. After a buyer places an order, they will inform the seller which player they are selling, so that they can obtain the exact benefit with the quantity of coins purchased. Then, the provider buys the player.
Alternatively, there is the "comfort trade", which consists in delivering your account to a supplier to provide you with coins directly. As you can imagine, this method carries a great risk.
And finally, you can sell your full account. As with many other games, your FIFA Ultimate Team account has real value.
You could ask how the FUT coin sellers get so many FUT coins to sell. According to Lewis, there are three methods. The first is that coin websites have people who grind.
"These guys have their own gold farms, mostly located in China or Southeast Asian countries, and they keep growing coins like crazy," he says.
The second is simply to buy coins from other players.
The third is the most problematic: hacking. It's probably a good idea to never give your account details to anyone.
This black market has bubbled under the surface of FIFA for years, and it seems that EA can not stop it.
"One thing they must understand is that there is a rule of supply and demand," says Lewis.
"The RMT market can not exist if people do not want to buy gold, not everyone has enough playing time to earn coins to get the desired players, while buying packages does not always fulfill their wish.
"Therefore, instead of focusing on the activities of RMT, it is better to focus on improving the gaming experience and the security system."
And so, we come to a full circle. It seems obvious to me that the items in the Ultimate Team package have a value in the real world, so they should be under greater scrutiny. But what is not obvious to me is who is to blame or, perhaps, better said, who should be responsible for repressing. Should EA take charge of going to war with FIFA's third-party coin websites? Or should the Gaming Commission assume them? I suspect that neither party wants responsibility.
Either way, I feel there is a more important concern that has been lost amid the noise of the loot box. This concern revolves around the ethics of Ultimate Team. This is a way adored by millions of children and young people around the world. So many rush home from school to crush some of the Ultimate Team before dinner. So many FIFA YouTubers players made their millions of young people desperate to see their favorite personality lose their shit by packing 91 from David-Gea. FIFA, like real football, is a game for young people. And here lies the problem.
Does Ultimate Team exploit young people? Does the card package system teach young people game trends, even subconsciously? Is it addictive? And the answer to these questions is yes, should parents be warned about what is happening?
I have seen first-hand how problematic the Ultimate Team can be among young people. My 11-year-old nephew was recently kicked out of his Xbox One for months for spending more than £ 300 on FIFA coins behind his mother's back. It was clear that the incident had caused a massive fight and great disgust, so much so that when I mentioned it there was a dead silence in the room. When I asked my nephew about it later, he told me that he only likes to open packages.
Me too, I answered.