About two years ago, I wrote a feature for The Runner on the ways video game companies get players to spend money within games via microtransactions, some of which bordered on being predatory.
One video game company, in particular, Electronic Arts, had landed themselves in hot water for their use of these practices on a couple of occasions at the time the article had been published. Two years later, that water seems to have now gone from hot to scalding.
Last month, a gaming insider leaked a 54-page document to the CBC discussing a mode of gameplay that lets players buy loot boxes within FIFA 21 to improve their performance and increase their chances of winning. The document called this mode, known as FIFA Ultimate Team, the “cornerstone” of the game, before detailing methods such as “content teasers” designed to drive players from other modes of play.
A spokesperson for EA, unsurprisingly, refused to comment on the document outside of saying that it is being “viewed without context.” The official statement from the company, according to CBC, says that spending money on loot boxes is optional. In making this argument, however, EA is gravely missing the point of why people are getting upset about this issue.
The problem is not that EA is giving players the option to spend on microtransactions, but that it is performing very targeted marketing of these microtransactions — sorry, “live services,” as they call them — to the types of people who will not only buy them, but keep buying them until their savings are depleted. Much in the same way that some sellers might target other potentially addicting products towards the people who are most vulnerable to being taken advantage of.
Beyond EA’s problematic use of microtransactions and the predatory way they are getting people to spend money on them is the longstanding issue of corporations denying and then distracting the public from the darker secrets they hide.
Even Amazon will put out ads to convince people to work for their warehouses, hoping prospective hires will not learn about their union busting and less-than-savoury working conditions at some locations. If there is one thing to glean from this, it is that EA is just another example in an extensive line of companies willing to deflect from their role in the scandal they have created.
So, what is the solution? I could tell you that you should vote with your heads and your wallets and see to it that companies like EA lose profits when they attempt to dismiss or diminish concerns about their shady dealings behind the scenes. But as you may have guessed, that becomes significantly harder when companies like this are doing everything they can to swallow up any prospective competition. There’s even more added difficulty when those in power do nothing to hold them to account, which encourages these companies to continue the practice.