The Release of FIFA 22 and Gambling Harm

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Today marks the full global release date of the new FIFA 22 game, but whilst many gamers will be hailing the latest release from the largest sports video game franchise in the world, there are several lapsed players and campaigners who remain concerned at the retention of the ‘loot box’ feature of the game, which is perceived by many analysts to be a form of gambling that can easily be accessed by children.

With players able to pay for hidden ‘player packs’ which may – or may not – increase the strength of a player’s squad in the FIFA Ultimate Team mode, many gamers are spending considerable sums on bolt-on additions that cost more than the cost price of the game itself but without any guarantee of a tangible return.

With studies from the University of Plymouth and the University of Wolverhampton – commissioned on behalf of awareness charity GambleAware – showing that 93% of surveyed children in the UK claim to game ‘regularly’ and an estimated 25%-40% of those pay for loot box content, it is understandable that a number of commentators are warning about the potentially dangerous path towards gambling and gaming-related harm if this practice normalises the sense of committing money to a transaction with no guaranteed return.

The numbers explain why it’s such a hot topic. FIFA 21 was the most popular game in the UK in 2020 according to unit sales. With a widely reported increase in online gaming since the global Coronavirus pandemic, FIFA 22 could be set for even more success.

66% of people in the UK stated that in 2020, they spent more time watching eSports and binge-gaming since the pandemic and it is estimated that the global number of eSports viewers will increase to 646 million by the year 2023.

The eSports industry is clearly growing rapidly, and with it, the potential for gaming and especially gambling-related harm grows too. Globally leading gambling harm minimisation consultancy EPIC Risk Management aim to educate and empower players, management teams, and the wider eSports audience and community to avoid and mitigate the risks and dangers of problem gambling and gaming.

With 87% of young people in the UK alone playing online games every day, society is becoming increasingly exposed to gambling-related activities via games like FIFA. FIFA Ultimate Team provides regular opportunities to buy and trade, therefore promoting gambling behaviour, on player packs, despite EA denying pushing players to spend on loot boxes. Players can spend real money to invest in building dream virtual squads and may even feel pushed to invest money into the game to ensure they can play at a high level.

Recent studies have established definite connections between the use of loot boxes and problem gambling behaviour and Jonathan Peniket, Gaming and eSports Consultant at EPIC Risk Management, explains why this comes as a grave concern:

“Loot boxes continue to be a huge danger for young people involved with gaming,” he admits.

“The scale of the issue is still being realised and games such as FIFA Ultimate Team, where player packs feature almost centrally, have the potential to exploit young people in particularly vulnerable situations, who might use addictive gambling mechanics to cope with difficulties in their lives.

“Loot boxes are a form of gambling, and until any desperately needed regulation arrives in the UK, as it has elsewhere, it is imperative that we educate both gamers and parents on these dangers and the shocking prevalence of loot box addiction.”

EPIC aims to take the problem out of gambling through education, awareness, and prevention. Their harm minimisation programmes and sessions within the education sector for pupils, parents, and teachers focus on gambling and online gaming with emphasis on loot boxes, addiction, and mental health, teaching people to make better-informed decisions when engaging in gaming and eSports.

It has been widely suggested that the UK government is looking into whether loot boxes will be classified as gambling in the longer term, and therefore subject to similar scrutiny and regulation, but for now, a lot of focus is placed on the individual – or in the case of minors, their parents or guardians – to regulate how they interact with the new release and its in-game features.

Many new releases feature parental control features, which have granted parents greater opportunity to set safer limits to gaming in PlayStation and Xbox consoles, although many within the gaming sector have found that EA’s Playtime feature – which includes settings to cap the number of player packs that can be purchases – can be circumnavigated by children who are well versed in how the software behaves.

So, what realistically should be the take away message for those concerns by the topic? Jonathan Peniket, whose expertise in the gaming and eSports sector guides many of EPIC’s policies in this area, reminds people that you can walk away from a potentially addictive gaming experience at any time and advises you to think: “Is gaming getting in the way of the things I really want to do in life? Always remember you have a choice.”