After a Netherlands District Court ruled in favour of the country’s Gambling Authority on banning loot boxes earlier this month, FIFA publisher EA has one week to remove loot boxes from the game or face up to $US5.85 ($8) million in fines.
The ruling, issued October 15 and published today, allows the Netherlands Gambling Authority (known as Kansspelautoriteit or Ksa for short), to proceed with fining EA and its Switzerland-based office roughly $413,209 a piece each week that FIFA continues to sell loot boxes until the maximum fine is reached. In a statement to Eurogamer, EA said it would appeal the decision.
The Gambling Authority first came out against loot boxes in certain games back in 2018. At the time it targeted FIFA 18, Dota 2, PUBG, and Rocket League. It eventually threatened the studios behind those games with fines unless the mechanics it deemed to constitute paid gambling were changed.
While three of those games no longer have paid loot boxes, FIFA’s paid player packs remain the core of its Ultimate Team mode. In it, players slowly build up an all-star team by buying packs of player cards, with famous top-tier players being the most sought after and the rarest to get.
“The fact that football players sometimes have a high value and that they can occasionally be traded constitutes a violation of the Gambling Act,” the Gambling Authority wrote in its announcement today. “Under Dutch law, a game of chance that allows a prize or premium to be won can only be provided if a relevant licence has been granted.”
EA has rejected this argument in the past, whimsically describing loot boxes as “surprise mechanics” and calling them “quite ethical” back in 2019 when discussing the issue before the UK Parliament. A year later the publisher is still standing by the practice.
“We do not believe that our products and services violate gambling laws in any way,” EA said in its statement to Eurogamer. “We are appealing this decision and we seek to avoid a situation impacting the ability of Dutch players to fully experience and enjoy FIFA Ultimate Team.”
Public outrage over loot box mechanics came to a head in late 2018 after EA’s Star Wars: Battlefront II launched with randomised, pay-to-win mechanics. Since then, government authorities across a number of countries, including the US, have looked into regulating loot boxes if the industry refused to regulate them itself. As a result, most games have moved away from them and toward paid seasonal pass models with set rewards.
Of course, when it comes to EA, a few million in fines is a drop in the bucket compared to the billions it makes from microtransactions, including FIFA player packs.