FIFA 23 will mark the end (opens in new tab) of Electronic Arts' long-running partnership with the Fédération Internationale de Football Association, the global sport governing body that gives the videogame series its name. But it won't mark the end of FIFA loot boxes, as EA has confirmed that randomized loot boxes will be back for the swansong.
It seemed possible that EA might finally pull the plug on the controversial FUT Packs, which can be earned through gameplay or purchased with real money and contain content like players and club items. EA introduced a twist on the formula called Preview Packs (opens in new tab) in FIFA 21, which enabled players to see the contents of packs before purchasing them, thereby eliminating the element of randomization. There's also been growing pushback against loot boxes over the past few years that has led to heightened scrutiny of their more predatory practices and even outright bans in some countries. The timing is right, too: EA is moving into a post-FIFA world, and I have to think that ditching loot boxes would be a good way to drum up both interest and goodwill in EA Sports FC.
On the other hand, FIFA Ultimate Team is still extremely popular, and FUT Packs make a lot of money. EA didn't release specific figures in its most recent quarterly report, but it did describe the series as "exceptionally strong on a global basis," and said that player engagement was up nearly 40% year-over-year. That builds upon a compound annual growth rate of almost 50% over the past ten fiscal years, which powered nearly $1.5 billion in sales (opens in new tab) in the 2020 fiscal year alone. The UK also recently recommended that loot boxes should not be regulated (opens in new tab) by the government, effectively clearing the way for continued FUT Pack sales as-is in one of the biggest markets for them.
The FIFA 23 website (opens in new tab) makes a passing reference to loot boxes in the new FIFA Ultimate Team, saying players can redeem a new currency called Stars "for players, packs, and more." EA confirmed that the packs will be back, and defended its FIFA loot box practices overall, in a statement sent to Eurogamer (opens in new tab).
"We wholeheartedly believe that Ultimate Team and FUT Packs, which have been part of the game for more than a decade, are a part of FIFA that players love—fans love that the game reflects the real-world excitement and strategy of building and managing a squad," EA said. "Giving players the choice to spend if they want to is fair.
"It's worth saying that spending is entirely optional in our game, and we do not encourage spending over earning rewards through game play. FUT Packs work in just the same way whether they are paid for or earned, and most players don't spend in game at all. For example, nine out of 10 FUT Packs opened in FIFA 22 were earned."
Broadly speaking, that's true of most free-to-play games: The vast majority of players pay nothing, but high-spending players, known in the industry as "whales," more than make up for it. It's fair to say that people should be free to spend their money as they want, but gambling addiction is a serious problem for an awful lot of people, which is why it's regulated fairly stringently in most jurisdictions—and also why the videogame industry puts so much effort into keeping loot boxes from being declared a form of gambling, a campaign that's been largely successful so far: In March, for instance, a Netherlands appeals court overturned an $11 million fine (opens in new tab) that had been issued against EA, declaring that FUT Packs "are not games of chance"—that is, not gambling.
One thing that isn't clear at this point is whether Preview Packs will also be returning with FIFA 23. I've reached out to EA to clarify and will update if I receive a reply.