EA and microtransactions are back in the spotlight again with a report emerging from BBC. This is the story of how the company’s aggressive monetization strategies emptied out a family’s bank account. It seems as if the moment EA waft their fart away from themselves, somebody is there to nudge it back at them…
This time, the focus is on FIFA and their Ultimate Team. According to Intelligent Economist, the game nets the company $650 million dollars and above. To understand that better, FIFA is responsible for around 40% of the company’s revenue.
Those figures make it easy to understand why the franchise is such a valuable thing to EA. When one game is propping up half of your revenue, you’re going to lean on it pretty heavily. The problem is that microtransactions have been netting these AAA companies more money than the sales of the actual game have been. And, as we all know, greed gives way to tyranny.
After some time following these stories and seeing the community’s reaction to the reports, I must ask the question: are microtransactions making FIFA unsafe for children?
The Age Rating and What This Implies About Monetization Targets
Imagine I walked up to you in the street and asked you if a football game should be suitable for everyone. After you asked me who the hell I was, you’d probably agree with me, right?
However, the story we are about to discuss suggests the complete opposite. And before we begin, I think a little context will help you see why this BBC article is so shocking.
I am not a fan of football and I don’t play FIFA, but I understand why somebody could love this franchise. It may be the only game you play, relaxing from a hard day’s work. It may be what got you into gaming, a memory to look back on fondly. The series has touched so many people’s hearts.
The sad fact is the series has a dark heart sown into it that sucks the soul from any who dabble in its menacing ways. Enter microtransactions.
Microtransactions are the poison of the gaming industry. As countries, like Belgium, ban them and these AAA publishers have to defend themselves in front of parliaments, it seems like the rest of the world is waking up to this fact.
The AAA industry continues to be firm that they are only targeting the so-called “whales” for these live service features. Those people with a large income, who enjoy gaming, but don’t have the time to go through endless hours of grinding.
I think the investigations by the press and gambling commissions suggest quite the contrary. If it was merely those with a large disposable income, there wouldn’t be much of an issue with microtransactions. However, game progression is deliberately being designed to encourage purchases in the store by anyone.
Buy or grind; it’s your choice!
But, of course, when you rate a game suitable for everyone, you invite children to access the store and spend lots of their parents’ money. There is a psychological principle called “variable rate reinforcement.” The idea is that the human brain releases dopamine when faced with an uncertain reward. The brain loves dopamine and can become addicted to the activities that release the chemical. Most adults learn to recognize the danger of becoming dependant on something that gives them a dopamine rush, but a child’s mind isn’t mature enough to understand this. And, so, it is much easier for them to become addicted to opening these packs in Ultimate Team.
The Story of the Family
Back to that BBC report. We begin the aforementioned article with the fact that:
“Four children spent nearly £550 in three weeks buying player packs…”
Wouldn’t you be shocked if your children threw away that much from your account on a game? I admit that the father did indeed buy them a pack and left his card information on there and must share some of the blame here. But, how would he know that it was so easy to make a purchase in the game? The article then goes on to say:
“Mr Carter said his children… felt very remorseful and had not understood the impact of what they were doing.”
Of course, they wouldn’t! When a child doesn’t truly understand the emotions they feel, how on Earth are they meant to have a concept of the impact of money?
Nintendo did refund the money spent, but EA simply released guidelines to the press on how to control in-game purchases. Does this seem like a company who really cares about the impact these games are having on children and their families?
The thing that stands out the most to me is the fact that these games need guidelines at all. When these have to be read to protect your bank account, can we really say that FIFA is for everyone?
So, Are Microtransactions Unsafe?
The problem is, I don’t have an answer to that question. There are kids out there who have a burning passion for football and the potential fun in these games shouldn’t be robbed from them. But if you do let them play the games, then you risk them buying into these microtransactions and threatening a family’s financial security.
There are so many stories out there talking about how dangerous microtransactions can be for children and problem gamblers. However, it only seems that now everyone is finally starting to pay attention to this issue.
The questions I often ask myself is: is it too late? Can games ever go back to being about having fun?
All I can say for certain is, as the reports keep flooding in, it becomes clearer that the AAA industry will try to screw as much money out of us, in any way they can.
Let us know what you think? Do you think that FIFA is safe for children? Or do you think I’m overreacting? Let us know in the comments below!