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The biggest football console game in the world returns with a new name – but gambling mechanisms still hide within

After thirty years of hype around the ‘FIFA’ video game console series, the product has a new name this year: EA Sports FC 24.

But whilst the new identity is a talking point ahead of the release of this year’s edition on Friday, gambling mechanisms remain firmly rooted in the way that many people engage with the game, at a time when our research has found that young people are showing strong signs of concern over gambling-related elements of console games.

Licensing reasons have led to the change of branding on EA Sports’ most popular title, but long-standing ‘FIFA’ afficionados will still find that familiar gambling-style traits loom large within the game’s format – the process of acquiring bonus ‘player packs’ to boost their chances of success in the Ultimate Team mode.

Alas, though pundits have expressed their excitement that this feature now features a gender balance of iconic male and female players for the first time, it’s less discussed that to ‘win’ the star players to enhance your team typically costs money, meaning that players should be wary of keeping their credit card too close to their console, as the chance of landing a Harry Kane or Alex Morgan in your player pack is low, with lesser-known players far more regularly making up the components of the digital asset.

During the course of the 2022/23 academic year in the UK, we investigated young people’s views on gaming and spending money on in-game purchases, the amount of money spent on loot boxes and in-game items, as well as the experiences they might have had as a result of this.

Following our education sessions in state and private schools from September 2022 to July 2023, we asked students to complete an online survey. A total of 3,248 students aged 14 to 19 took part, and the results have shown that 52% of young people believe that spending money on in-game purchases is harmful and 19% are not sure whether that is the case.

Despite more than half of participants believing it is harmful, 41% have reported to have bought loot boxes in a video game and 61% bought other items or products in a game using real money excluding loot boxes. 85% of those that bought a loot box also reported spending money on other in-game purchases.

These findings show a clear link between spending money on loot boxes and on other in-game purchases. This indicates a higher likelihood that if money is spent on one of these activities, it might trigger spending on the other activity as well, despite realising that it could be harmful.

In terms of amounts spent, 5% stated that they spend at least £51 a month on loot boxes each month and 3% spend at least £51 a month on other items in gamesHigher amounts of money were spent on loot boxes compared to other in-game items, which is concerning because it emphasizes the potential danger loot boxes hold.

Qualitative comments from the survey were also analysed and the following main points emerged. Those who spent money on in-game items reported to have experienced both negative and positive consequences. Negative consequences included family conflicts around spending parents’ money in games and positive experiences were related to responsible spending assisted by parental supervision.

Reacting to the findings ahead of the new EA Sports FC 24 game hitting the shelves, EPIC’s head of safer gambling Dave Sproson – who himself experienced significant financial and personal harm from the addictive mechanism of loot boxes in other video games – believes those purchasing the new title should mix their initial excitement with a sensible level of caution, explaining:

“We know that people all over the world will enjoy playing the game, but they need to be aware – especially parents who will be allowing their children to play unsupervised – of the ‘loot boxes’ within the game, in this instance the ‘player packs’ that this game offers.

“In the UK currently, loot boxes are still not considered a form of gambling, albeit there have been moves in recent months to try and regulate their access to children as the general consensus starts to move in that direction.

“Make no mistake, it is gambling. It’s the act of placing money towards a desired outcome where you’re not guaranteed to get something of the value you’ve committed.

“The only loophole it goes through with loot boxes is that you always get something out of them, whereas with other forms of gambling, it’s win or lose.

“There are parallels between loot boxes and playing a slot game, for example, where you could put £10 in and win 15p; you’ve won by definition because you’ve come away with something, but you’ve lost because you’re down overall.

“Loot boxes are exactly the same, because you might want that legendary or mythical item, the best one you can get, and commit to the spend accordingly, but the chances are you’re going to get a lower end value item instead. That’s where you can see that there isn’t a difference between loot boxes and other gambling mechanisms, and people will continue to spend the money chasing those hidden items that they really want but rarely getting the value of product in return.”

Existing academic studies validate Sproson’s message. Previous research shows that spending money in games is associated with negative consequences (Zendle & Cairns, 2018). Therefore, vulnerable consumer groups such as children and young people must be protected from such negative consequences like financial risks from gaming activities (Kristiansen & Severin, 2020).

In-game items refer to the types of virtual goods within video games that people can buy using real-world money. They have been divided those into different categories: power-ups, expansion packages, playable characters, cosmetics/skins, loot boxes, and time savers (Cai et al., 2022). Loot boxes specifically have been found to be harmful to young people due to their probability-based nature; they can be purchased with real money but include randomized contents (Zendle et al., 2020).

Loot boxes are among the many forms of gambling that are covered in our harm prevention education programme for state and private schools in the UK during the 2023/24 academic year. Please email education@epicriskmanagement.com for more information regarding the programme.

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