The Ultimate Team Lawsuit: A Deeper Dive

By  //  April 8, 2020

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A short while ago on this website, we discussed the fact that EA is being taken to court in France for the way they execute FIFA Ultimate Team.

A short while ago on this website, we discussed the fact that EA is being taken to court in France for the way they execute FIFA Ultimate Team.

There have been rumblings for years that something like this would eventually happen, and we suspect that EA’s lawyers are already briefed to defend the charge vigorously when their day in court arrives.

Putting that to aside for a moment, though, what do we actually want as players? Do we want the lawsuit to succeed, or are we happy to leave things as they are? 

The charge against Ultimate Team mode is the same as the charge that’s been leveled against every video game that features loot boxes for years. In a nutshell, they’re accused of being no different from the attractions on an online slots website. We get the point.

When someone play online slots, they spend money on a chance of making a return on the money they spend, but they have no guarantee of success. An online slots player is hoping for a jackpot or a winning line. A FIFA Ultimate Team player is hoping for a star player that will improve their squad.

If a player doesn’t like what they get when the reels stop spinning in online slots, they can pay more money and roll again – just as we can if we don’t like the cards we’re handed in FIFA.

From a legal point of view, the crucial difference is that online slots websites are regulated, and aren’t available to minors. FIFA Ultimate Team mode is, and so it’s effectively offering children access to gambling. 

We can make all the arguments we like about children only being able to spend money on FIFA if they have access to their parents’ card details and therefore it ought to be the responsibility of a parent to ensure that they aren’t spending money, but we’ve seen enough stories appear in the news to know that kids often take the cards without consent, and the parents only find out about it when a huge bill has been accrued.

We don’t see how EA can try to argue with a straight face that it shouldn’t be doing more to prevent this from happening. Their point will be that nobody has to spend any money on Ultimate Team at all – but does this argument hold weight? 

It is indeed possible to make progress through every aspect of FIFA without spending a single penny more than the retail price of the game – it just involves a lot of grind.

Once upon a time, grind was what the game was all about. Ultimate Team mode hasn’t even been part of the franchise for that long.

Once upon a time, the ultimate goal in FIFA was similar to the ultimate goal of Football Manager – take a low-ranking team and turn them into superstars. We can still do that now.

You could take over Blackpool FC (who have a managerial vacancy as of this week) in England’s League One and turn them into European Champions, and you could derive a lot of satisfaction from doing so.

For most players, though, that isn’t where the thrill is anymore. Some people never even touch the game’s standard modes – they buy FIFA for Ultimate Team, and that’s all they ever play. 

If the loot box and payments system was removed, Ultimate Team would still be there. We could all still acquire card packs, and we could all still assemble great teams and play with them online.

It would take longer to put those teams together, but in theory, that should also separate the dedicated players from those who have simply bought their way to the top. If you had to go out and earn players like Messi and Mbappe, having them on your team would be a sign of the level of effort you’ve put in as a player to get them.

You’d have more prestige among your fellow players, and you’d have a tangible reward for the hours you’ve put in. Right now, you don’t have that.

You could do things the hard way and still find yourself on level pegging with someone who spent $500 last week and souped-up their team that way. 

On the other hand, restricting gameplay like that would be viewed as unfair by some. If people have the money to spend on endless card packs and they want to do that, why should they be denied that right? As EA will say in court, nobody makes them buy the packs. Nobody makes them play Ultimate Team at all.

They’re in control of their own spending decisions, and all EA does is provide them access with the facility to buy packs if they choose to do so.

It’s hard to imagine how some players in the Twitch and streaming community would continue to attract viewers if they didn’t have the ability to create all-star teams quickly – although whether you think this is a good thing or a bad thing probably depends on how you feel about FIFA streamers. 

We suspect that the case won’t end well for EA. We’ve already seen Belgium rule that loot boxes are a form of gambling, and so a precedent has been set.

We also suspect that the ‘online slots’ accusation is going to be a difficult one for EA to dodge. That doesn’t, however, mean that loot boxes and Ultimate Team are going to go through fundamental changes.

Instead, we imagine that a compromise option will be struck – for example, players having to prove their age before they’re allowed to purchase loot boxes.

Even that will stick in EA’s craw somewhat, as the amount of revenue they make from young players seeking cards is likely to be substantial. 

At the moment, we don’t know when the court case is going to be heard or how it’s going to be handled. We suspect that nothing will happen so quickly that it will affect whatever plans EA has in store for FIFA 21.

For that reason alone, we suspect that Ultimate Team in the next game will look a lot like Ultimate Team in the current game. From FIFA 22 onward, though, thinks may begin to look very different indeed. And perhaps it’s right that they should.