Under increasing pressure from governments, children's welfare groups and gambling charities, EA has today added the ability to see what's inside FIFA 21 loot boxes before you buy them.
These Ultimate Team Preview Packs, as EA calls them, let you see all the specific items contained within them before you make a decision on whether to buy with FUT Coins or FIFA Points.
FUT Coins is a virtual currency earned through gameplay. FIFA Points is a virtual currency bought with real-world money.
Packs not directly obtained from the FUT Store such as rewards from Division Rivals, or earned from an Objective or SBC, will not be Preview Packs and will continue to function as they do now, EA said.
These packs hit FIFA 21 today as part of the ongoing in-game 'Festival of FUTball', and are the only pack type available in the FUT Store during the event. At the end of the campaign other pack types will return, EA added.
Here's how it works: the names of the packs are familiar, but work differently. In the FUT Store, you can select a Preview Pack to preview its contents. Previewing a pack does not mean you've made a decision to buy it. Once you have selected to preview the pack, you will see the pack opening animation, which you can watch or skip.
After the pack opening animation, you're shown all the items contained in the pack. If you decide you want to buy the pack you can now do so.
If you decide you want the pack, and select Buy Pack, you're given one final prompt asking you to confirm your purchase and choose whether to use FUT Coins or FIFA Points. Here's how it looks:
(It's worth noting items found in Preview Packs do not currently display whether they are duplicates or not.)
If you do not buy the pack, you will see the previewed pack remains in the store, where it is now on a refresh timer. The timer has to expire before you can preview another pack of the same type. In one example given by EA, a pack expired in 20 hours and 35 mins.
You can view a previously previewed pack again and have the option to buy it as long as the preview is still active and Preview Packs are still available in the FUT Store, with a couple of exceptions, EA said.
One of these exceptions is time limited packs. Preview Pack refresh timers will not show in the case where the pack's time limit ends ahead of the pack's refresh window. So, if the pack's time limit has expired, you can no longer buy that pack. You'll see a 'Pack Expires In' counter to indicate these time limits.
Another exception is limited quantity packs. If all available packs in a global limit were bought before you made the decision to buy the pack you will no longer be able to buy that pack. There's a 'Packs Remaining' counter to indicate where you're at.
The upshot is this: if the refresh timer is still active, you can either buy the pack (you can then immediately preview another pack, if one is available), or wait for the refresh timer to expire. When it expires, you'll then have the ability to preview another pack.
Preview Packs are one of the biggest shakeups to Ultimate Team since its inception, and mark a significant change to the way the controversial - and highly lucrative - mode is monetised.
The change comes amid increasing pressure from governments about the link between video game loot boxes and gambling. EA's FIFA series is part of ongoing investigations into the impact of loot boxes, particularly on children, with many groups calling for a change in legislation to categorise loot boxes such as Ultimate Team packs as gambling.
It's clear EA is testing the waters with changes in FIFA 21 in response to this scrutiny and ahead of the reveal of FIFA 22. In May, EA began selling FIFA 21 cosmetics outside loot boxes for the first time.
Researchers at the universities of Plymouth and Wolverhampton said loot boxes "are structurally and psychologically akin to gambling". It also found that large numbers of children were opening loot boxes.
In the UK, the government is looking into loot boxes to see if the law should be applied to them. In December 2019, the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport launched a review of loot boxes alongside a wider review of the Gambling Act 2005, and in June 2020 announced a public call for evidence. The government commissioned Abertay University to assess this evidence, and the hope is a report will be issued by the end of this year. If so, the government may act at some point in 2022.
While EA maintains Ultimate Team's loot boxes do not constitute gambling, in a recent regulatory financial document the company acknowledged a change in the law could significantly impact its business.
All eyes now turn to FIFA 22. Will fundamental changes to Ultimate Team's monetisation be put into place for the game? Will Preview Packs become the new standard packs for Ultimate Team going forward? If they are, will that be enough to fend off the regulators?