EA Finds Itself In California Gambling Lawsuit Over FIFA, Madden Loot Boxes

Posted on August 20, 2020

Big changes could come to Electronic Arts’ (EA) most popular sports-themed video games. That’s if a Madden and FIFA Ultimate Team lawsuit in California pans out as the plaintiffs hope.

A class of over 100 Californians has filed suit against EA, alleging its virtual card-based progression system violates state gambling laws.

Ultimately, California courts will determine the fate of this popular element of both games.

Arguments made in the EA lawsuit

Both games have an “Ultimate Team” mode, which allows players to improve their competitive play by collecting virtual cards. Those cards represent current and former players, along with new playing venues and other upgrades.

The easiest way to collect those cards is simply by buying them within the games’ marketplaces. However, it’s not exactly a true “shopping” experience.

Instead of buying individual cards, players buy packs without knowing what cards they will get. While that may provide an element of surprise, it also may violate California law.

Because of the random nature of the packs, plaintiffs in the lawsuit allege the marketplaces are actually no different than playing the lottery or other games of chance.

State law requires any companies offering gambling to have appropriate licensure.

So far, EA has not applied for such a license in California. Plaintiffs allege they have lost hundreds of dollars on these packs and felt shortchanged due to the unpredictability of the contents.

It seems that EA is determined to contest the allegations. The software company argues that because each pack comes with cards of value in the games, it’s not gambling.

The possibilities right now are endless. As this lawsuit proceeds in the courts, the potential ends to this dispute will become more clear, however.

A myriad of possibilities for EA and the class of plaintiffs

Right now, it’s entirely possible that this dispute may never actually see a courtroom. EA could negotiate a settlement with the class, which would likely involve cash payments in exchange for the class dropping the complaint.

If the plaintiffs stick to their guns, there is some risk for EA. The studio which brings a new FIFA and Madden game to fans each year could take some measures to mitigate that risk now, however.

There’s a simple way to sidestep this issue altogether. Anyone who has ever come across a manufacturer’s contest with the phrase, “no purchase necessary” has seen this solution.

If EA alters its system so that players don’t have to spend money to acquire Ultimate Team packs, it could help keep the packs in the game without the risk of violating any California gambling laws.

Making that shift could cut into EA’s revenue by a huge margin, however. In the past fiscal year, EA made almost $1.5 billion off Ultimate Team micro-transactions.

For now, EA will probably try to maintain the status quo in order to keep this billion dollar baby available its games for as long as possible.

It’s in the courts’ hands to decide if FIFA and Madden will need to make some serious changes to remain on the shelves in California.

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Derek Helling

Derek Helling is a freelance journalist who resides in Kansas City, Mo. He is a 2013 graduate of the University of Iowa and covers the intersections of sports with business and the law.

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