Loot boxes have become a controversial part of gaming, and FIFA Ultimate Team‘s particular method is among the most famous, leading some countries to crack down on them as a whole, and others to take Electronic Arts to court and win cases against them in litigation.
An appeals court in the Netherlands has now overturned that decision, so Electronic Arts will no longer have to pay an $11 Million fine.
Dutch gaming regulators deemed loot boxes illegal in 2018 due to their infractions of the country’s gambling laws.
There was an 8-week deadline for FIFA and three other games to change their loot box practices or face fines. When EA decided not to pull its Ultimate Team packs from FIFA 18, it went to trial. According to the Court of the Hague, EA was issued a fine of €500k per week to a maximum of €10 million (US$11 million) in 2020.
This ruling was reversed by the Netherlands’ administrative supreme court in 2020 after the court of justice ruled against it. The fact that FIFA Ultimate Team is not simply about getting cards (through purchase or otherwise) and opening packs, but rather that the packs are part of a larger game that “adds an element of chance,” should have prevented the Hague court’s viewing it as gambling.
The following is what a representative of Electronic Arts told Eurogamer after the case:
“Today’s ruling confirms our belief that no aspect of FIFA or FIFA Ultimate Team can be considered gambling under Dutch law… At Electronic Arts, our approach to game design places choice, fun, fairness, and value first. We are committed to making sure all our players, not just those in the Netherlands, have a positive experience.”
Reversing this policy is only the latest chapter in the long saga of curtailing the practice of loot boxes which some find predatory.
The Netherlands has ruled in Electronic Arts’ favor, but other European countries remain highly critical of FIFA Ultimate Team in particular.
EA is still prohibited from selling FIFA Points in Belgium. In the UK, there are still ongoing discussions about the practice in which an EA representative called loot boxes “surprise mechanics.”
There are also discussions taking place from US state and congressional representatives about how loot boxes can be sold to children.
By winning this case, EA may start to turn the momentum in its favor as other countries where football (soccer) is the leading sport reflect on what the Netherlands’ high courts have decided. However, FIFA Ultimate Team and other games using loot boxes will continue to be scrutinized despite microtransactions being implemented in many modern games.