Monday, May 10, 2021

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This article was updated at 12:05 GMT.

The Netherlands Gaming Authority will be allowed to fine Electronic Arts €500,000 every week it sells loot boxes in FIFA Ultimate Team, after the feature was deemed in violation of gambling rules.

The decision was approved by the court of The Hague on Thursday, following a lengthy legal battle between the Gaming Authority and EA.

The independent body ruled in 2018 that FIFA’s Ultimate Team Packs mechanic was in violation of its Gambling Act, and suggested the weekly fine (up to a maximum of €10 million), which was then challenged by EA in court.

A weekly €250,000 fine will be charged against both EA and its Swiss subsidiary, which is responsible for the sale of FIFA, for a total of €500,000 a week.

According to NU.nl, the FIFA publisher had argued that the content of its FUT packs only had value within the game itself, as they could not be converted into money.

However, the judge dismissed EA’s objections on Thursday and ordered that if the company wants to avoid the weekly fine, it would need to disable loot boxes within three weeks.

In a statement provided to VGC, EA’s Benelux Country Manager, Dirk Scholing said the company would appeal the decision.

“Players all over the world have enjoyed FIFA and the FIFA Ultimate Team mode for many years and as such, we are disappointed by this decision and what it may mean for our Dutch community.

“We do not believe that our products and services violate gambling laws in any way. 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.

EA has 3 weeks to remove FUT packs in Holland.

“Electronic Arts is deeply committed to positive play.  We seek to bring choice, fairness, value and fun to all our players in all of our games.  We remain open to discussions with the Netherlands Gambling Authority and other stakeholders to understand and explore solutions to address any concerns.”

The loot box mechanic has faced mainstream criticism in recent years amid comparisons to gambling.

Some European countries have already classified loot boxes as gambling, while all three console platform holders have introduced policies that require games made for their consoles to disclose loot box odds.

Loot boxes have also attracted the attention of the UK’s House of Lords. In September 2019, a report from the UK’s Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee advised the UK government to regulate loot boxes under gambling law and ban them from sale to children.

There is currently no legal consensus in the US on whether loot boxes constitute gambling. However, games ratings board the ESRB has begun flagging games that contain random in-game purchases such as loot boxes or gacha mechanics.

In January, UK trade body Ukie launched the ‘Get Smart About P.L.A.Y. Campaign’, which is designed to help parents promote healthy gaming using console safety features.

And in April the Pan European Game Information rating system introduced additional information on physical game packaging and on digital storefronts for titles which include in-game purchases that include random items like loot boxes or card packs.