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US advocacy groups call on FTC to investigate FIFA loot boxes

Coalition of 15 organizations believes Ultimate Team violates rules around unfair and deceptive practices

A coalition of 15 advocacy groups yesterday sent an open letter to the US Federal Trade Commission, asking the regulator to investigate "manipulative design abuses" in the FIFA franchise, specifically the loot box-driven Ultimate Team mode.

Led by Fairplay and Center for Digital Democracy, the groups repeatedly cited the recently released Norwegian Consumer Council report in describing dark patterns they say exploit children's lack of financial literacy and poor understanding of odds.

"By relentlessly marketing pay-to-win loot boxes, EA is exploiting children's desire to compete with their friends, despite the fact that most adults, let alone kids, could not determine their odds of receiving a highly coveted card or what cards cost in real money," Fairplay executive director Josh Golin said.

"The FTC must use its power to investigate these design abuses and determine just how many kids and teens are being fleeced by EA."

The letter raises concerns about a number of EA's practices, like requiring Ultimate Team packs to be purchased with multiple virtual currencies, abstracting their actual cost.

It also takes exception to EA's disclosed odds covering "outcomes that are so broad they are meaningless to game players," a lack of controls to keep young children from the game mode, and the potential for the game to be a gateway to problem gambling.

The FTC held a workshop event on loot boxes in 2019, but did not take action on the subject.

Update: An EA representative responded to a request for comment, saying, "We design our games to offer choice, fun, fairness and value for our players. In all of our games, including FIFA, spending is always optional, and most players choose not to spend at all. We want all players to have a positive experience in our games and strive to empower players and parents with as much information and control as possible to make informed choices for themselves and their children.

"We encourage the use of parental controls, including spend controls, that are available for every major gaming platform, including EA's own platforms. We also introduced FIFA Playtime, a dashboard that provides players with visibility into their time played, packs opened, and points purchased. We are continually listening to our community and invest in our games to make them better and more fun for everyone."

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