The Loot Box Gambling Debate Continues as Sony Faces Trouble in Austria

The global debate over whether loot boxes in video games constitute gambling continues, with Austria leaning toward yes. An Austrian court judge decided that the Ultimate Team player packs in FIFA 23 are gambling products, and Sony is going to have to break out the wallet.

Sample player options in the FIFA 23 video game Ultimate Pack
Sample player options in the FIFA 23 video game Ultimate Pack. An Austria court judge has ruled that they’re a form of gambling. (Image: Electronic Arts)

A lawsuit in 2020 against video game developer Electronic Arts (EA) and Sony in Austria accused the two of offering online gambling through loot boxes. A judge agreed, deciding late last week that the Ultimate Team packs are a form of gambling.

As such, according to the judge, EA and Sony were offering an illegal product in Austria. Anyone who purchased one of the packs is entitled to a refund, although an appeal is likely on its way.

Sony In A Quandary

The decision will be a heavy blow for loot boxes in general, but particularly for EA and Sony. If other countries decide that the Ultimate Team packs, or any other in-game offering, is a form of gambling, there will be more economic deterioration for those companies.

Leading the lawsuit in Austria is a group of players, including a minor, who has spent over €400 (US$425) on the Ultimate Team packs. After having “lost” their money in the microtransactions, by not getting the targets they wanted, the group went on the attack to claim Sony for allowing an illegal element within a video game for minors.

The judge’s ruling indicates that the Ultimate Team packs represent a possible “added value” to those who buy it, enabling their reinvestment and increasing profits in a reinvestment game. In short, they’re a type of gambling. For this, Sony will have to pay €338.26, although it has not commented on the matter.

Although EA was responsible for developing the game, Sony was the defendant in the suit because it handled the payments. However, it’s possible that the outcome of the suit will lead to trouble for EA, Microsoft and others. 

In Austria and Germany, as well as other jurisdictions, gaming companies have had to issue refunds to consumers for operating without a license. If the loot box case in Austria remains intact, other gamers could request refunds.

Unraveling the Loot Box Debate

Loot boxes refer to in-game products that boost the gamer’s position. They could be as simple as avatars or as complex as advanced weaponry or skills, depending on the game.

Players can purchase the loot boxes, although they rarely know in advance what they will get. This is why some believe they should be classified as gambling.

However, opponents against the gambling classification argue that players always receive something for their purchase. Therefore, loot boxes are not gambling – in gambling, there’s a risk of making a purchase and getting nothing in return.

In addition, buying loot boxes is not always a requirement. In many cases, exchanging in-game points, accumulated for free, for one of the surprise packages is possible.

The ruling in Austria is the latest setback for EA regarding the FIFA loot box controversy. Several European countries have discussed loot boxes, unable to reach a consensus. In the Netherlands, EA received a fine of €10 million (US$10.64 million) for loot boxes in various games. However, a higher court finally reversed that decision.

The debate hasn’t yet hurt the FIFA soccer video game series too much. In its first week, FIFA 23, the latest version, attracted 10.3 million players. The previous version, FIFA 22, had 9.1 million users in the first days after its release.

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