The court of The Hague has ruled the Netherlands Gaming Authority is allowed to fine EA €500,000 a week for as long as it continues to sell loot boxes in FIFA Ultimate Team. The decision comes two years after the Gaming Authority decreed the game’s Ultimate Team Packs were in violation of the Netherland’s gambling laws and originally recommended a fine of €10 million per week until the packs were disabled. EA appealed the original ruling and has stated it plans to to appeal The Hague’s decision as well.
The ruling is the latest blow in an ongoing series of EA lawsuits that decry the loot boxes as an illegal form of gambling. Gambling laws in Europe, Canada, and the United Kingdom are stricter than those found in the U.S. in an effort to discourage minors from developing an addiction to gambling through video games. FIFA’s Ultimate Team packs are purchased with real money and contain a random selection of soccer (football) players, including the best ones with the highest stats to be used online in matches against other human players or the computer. Criticism has long since been levied against EA for this extremely lucrative practice, which is essentially “pay-to-win” and encourages kids to buy packs in order to get better players. While the U.K. eventually ruled FIFA loot boxes didn’t constitute gambling, other European nations aren’t quite so sure. In 2018, the Belgium Gaming Authority decreed loot boxes did, in fact, constitute gambling and threatened criminal prosecution against EA if they refused to remove them. EA complied with the order with minimal complaint, and several other mainstream companies, such as Valve and Blizzard, followed suit.
The case laid the groundwork for the Netherlands Gaming Authority to make a similar decision. Per Video Games Chronicle, The District Court of The Hague, the central court for international law and arbitration located in the Netherlands, deliberated on the case for nearly two years, eventually ruling in favor of the Netherlands Gaming Authority. EA was ordered to remove Ultimate Team packs from its Dutch market, or it and its Swiss subsidiary will face a fine of €250,000 apiece, or €500,000 total per week, every week they refuse to comply, up to €5 million. Naturally, EA insists it will appeal, but this is likely just another stop in the long, legal battle the company will continue to fight worldwide for its in-game loot boxes.
Loot boxes have long been a source of contention in the gaming community as an exploitative and expensive practice, and EA has always been the primary target for the community’s ire. The legal battles EA has faced and will continue to deal with are a natural progression in a long, drawn out discussion over whether microtransactions and loot boxes are a necessary evil in a world where the price per unit of a game hasn’t really increased, but budget demands have. It also calls to attention an aspect of this practice that hasn’t been given much thought before: do loot boxes create gambling addictions in younger or otherwise more impressionable players?
EA will most likely never give up its fight to keep loot boxes in its games for as long as the microtransaction economy in FIFA Ultimate Team alone has earned the company over $6 billion, more than enough to make the potential €5 million fine to the Netherlands look like chump change. The only way to remove microtransactions and loot boxes from games is for every country to follow in the Netherlands’ footsteps, but it’ll be a long time before kids stop emptying their piggy banks in a vain attempt to score Lionel Messi.
Source: Video Games Chronicle