gaming or gambling? – The Athletic

“It was just embarrassing. I knew it was a bad habit but it was just addictive.”

You’re probably familiar with the FIFA series of video games. It might conjure up images of beating a friend or sibling on the sofa or trying your luck against a virtual opponent. 

But in the last few years, everything has changed. It’s all about online gameplay now — a potentially expensive habit that some have likened to gambling. 

Ultimate Team mode online is the most important strand of the globe-spanning mega-franchise and, controversially, it features packs of virtual footballers which can be purchased with real money, an innovation known as “loot boxes”.

The Athletic has spoken to many FIFA players, some of whom have wracked up four-figure credit card bills buying loot boxes, as well as parents, academics and campaigners, to find out why this is so controversial — particularly as gaming is so popular with under-18s. 

Joe Stapleforth, a 23-year-old museum worker from Somerset, spent “around £1500” playing FIFA online while at university.

“I was even poorer than most students and had to borrow money for food from friends at one point,” he says. “It also prevented me expanding my overdraft as the bank could see my money wasn’t being spent in constructive ways.”

Electronic Arts, which makes FIFA, says spending money is “entirely optional”, strongly disputes the comparisons with gambling and says it has safeguards to stop children from spending money.

FIFA has been around since 1993 but Ultimate Team launched in 2009. Rather than playing as an existing team, the mode allows players to build up their own side made up of players from different clubs and leagues.

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