Today the court of The Hague, a legal body in Holland has ruled EA should face substantial fines if they fail to remove loot boxes from its perennial football sim; FIFA. This follows a drawn out legal battle between the Dutch gaming authority (Kansspelautoriteit, or Ksa) and the increasingly bemoaned published.
This dispute began in 2018, where the court deemed FIFA’s “Ultimate Team Packs” mechanic was in violation of the country’s Gambling Act. The court suggested that EA should face a substantial fine for their inclusion of loot boxes. This could then stretch up to a maximum penalty of €10m (about $11.7m). This would take the form of a weekly fine of €250k for both EA and the publishing giant’s Swiss subsidiary, responsible for the sale of FIFA in the Netherlands.
But sire, FIFA’s a game of skill!
Predictably, EA challenged the decision. It argued that the content of the packs in question only held monetary value from within the game itself. Unable to be then converted into real money outside of the game, this would circumvent the gambling law in Holland. It went on the argue that “FIFA is inherently a game of skill rather than chance”. Surely a statement that wouldn’t feel out of place in a game of poker, or at the blackjack table. Both of which, are irrefutably gambling pastimes.
Today, in what could be a groundbreaking decision that argument was quashed in court. Undeterred by EA’s rebuttals, the regulator concluded that there are other ways people can profit from Ultimate Team cards. It said that people can ignore the traditional FIFA gameplay choosing to “play” the Ultimate Team packs instead. The regulator went on to explain the importance of the decision,
“The Ksa believes it is crucial to shield vulnerable groups, such as minors, from exposure to gambling. For that reason, the Ksa supports a strict separation between gaming and gambling. Gamers are often young and therefore particularly susceptible to developing an addiction. As such, gambling elements have no place in games.”
Break the law, face the consequences
EA’s initial objections also stretched to the widespread publicising of the decision, which the court overruled, too. The panel, made up of three judges, ruled against EA on both fronts. It permitted Kas to impose a maximum fine of €5m on the publisher and its Swiss subsidiary respectively. The judges clarified that the public interest in announcing the fines and warning the public about unlawful commercial practices outweighed EA’s interest in preserving its reputation. Which of course makes sense; if you are deemed to have broken the law then you should suffer the consequences of doing so. Yet another blow to a reputation that has long since lost its shine. Please do feel free to join me in shedding a single tear for the billion dollar company.
A statement did follow from EA, coming from it’s Enelux Country Mager Dirk Scholing,
“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.”
Good bye, loot boxes. Don’t come back.
At time of writing, EA have six weeks to appeal the decision. But amid a class action in Candea, a House of Lords ruling in the UK and multiple cases ongoing in Europe perhaps the time has come for loot boxes to slink off into a history we’d rather not repeat. With a bit of luck this is the final nail in the coffin.
Good bye, and good riddance.
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