EA has pulled an ad that marketed FIFA microtransactions to kids in UK toy store Smyths’ magazine. The ad suggested children “use FIFA Points to open packs,” through which they receive a random selection of players in the Ultimate Team (FUT) mode. FIFA Points are the franchise’s virtual currency, and they’re bought with real money.
"We take very seriously the responsibilities we have when marketing EA games and experiences in channels seen by children," EA told Eurogamer in a statement. "In spite of this, we're aware that advertising for FIFA Points has appeared in environments it shouldn't have.
“We have been working diligently with Smyths to ensure this advertisement is not distributed in any remaining copies of their 2020 catalog. We have also undertaken an immediate review of all future media placements and are working to ensure each of our marketing efforts better reflects the responsibility we take for the experience of our younger players."
— FIFA21Mistakes (@AllFifaMistakes) September 26, 2020
FUT packs are one type of a game mechanic called loot boxes. Those are prevalent in many popular games and are often centered around real-money microtransactions. In many titles, loot boxes offer solely cosmetic items, but in others, they have an impact on gameplay, effectively making them a pay-to-win function.
Loot boxes are a huge revenue driver for publishers. EA alone earns billions of dollars from them. In the 2019 fiscal year, 28 percent of its $4.95 billion net revenue came from Ultimate Team modes across the FIFA, NHL and Madden franchises. A “substantial portion” of that revenue was from FUT.
Various regulators have placed loot boxes in their crosshairs in recent years, with some deeming them to be a form of gambling. Loot boxes have faced scrutiny in the UK, and Belgium banned them in 2018.
The Federal Trade Commission held a workshop last year to examine consumer protection issues related to loot boxes. In a report it released last month, it said that the games industry has stepped up its self-regulation since the workshop took place. The agency said it would ”continue to monitor developments surrounding loot boxes and take appropriate steps to prevent unfair or deceptive practices.”