After I'd wrapped up my interview with EA's Chief Experience Officer Chris Bruzzo on FIFA's loot boxes, I felt like I was clear on one thing: the company is willing to lightly edit the way Ultimate Team's controversial monetisation works, but the fundamentals? It's sticking with those.
I suppose I shouldn't be surprised. In our interview, Bruzzo makes the case for why EA believes it's perfectly reasonable to sell loot boxes that contain gameplay-affecting items within FIFA, and I challenge him on that. If nothing else, I think it makes for an interesting back and forth - one that gives us a good idea of how EA thinks about its prize cash cow. I finished the interview with a better understanding of where EA's coming from and where it's going with Ultimate Team, but my opinion on it remains unchanged.
What happens next? I think the situation is relatively clear cut. Unless the UK government clamps down on loot boxes and declares they should fall under current gambling legislation, the fundamentals of Ultimate Team's monetisation will stay the same - no matter the grumblings of a vocal minority of players and websites such as Eurogamer. Sure, EA will tinker with Ultimate Team to placate its critics - a preview pack here, a pack probability there - but will it stop selling loot boxes with players inside? Only with a gun held up to its head.
So let's imagine a future in which the government does hold a gun up to EA's head. In such a situation, would EA simply turn off the ability to buy FIFA Points with real-world money in the UK? That was acceptable in Belgium, but in the massive UK market? Doubtful.
So, what's the alternative? It perhaps won't come as a surprise to learn, dear reader, that I've been thinking about this for quite some time. How do you make FIFA Ultimate Team a fair experience for all? Here's what I'd do.
First up, keep the ability to buy FIFA Points, but stop letting people use them to buy packs. That thought may terrify the money men at EA, but hear me out, guys.
Instead, make Ultimate Team free-to-play, and sell a premium battle pass as well as cosmetics. Continue to dish out rewards, albeit more generously and frequently, for modes such as Division Rivals and Squad Battles and the FUT Draft. Give players FUT Coins and packs as part of the battle pass. Let players earn powerful player cards by completing challenges tied to the battle pass. And, crucially, keep the transfer market alive.
Go super hard on seasons. They work really well for Fortnite and Call of Duty and other games of that type, and I see no reason why they wouldn't work really well for FIFA. Sell a new premium battle pass with each season. Will you sell battle pass tier skips for real-world money? Probably. Everyone else does. Will you sell cosmetics for real-world money from an in-game store? Of course. Everyone else does that, too.
It's worth digging into the cosmetics side of FIFA. This is a football sim, right? Authenticity is king. But, let's be honest, realism went out the window a long time ago. Ultimate Team is a mode in which you can play Lionel Messi in midfield alongside Jack Wilshere. Imagine that.
So go for it with the cosmetics, EA. Sell the bizarre, the out of place, the weird and wonderful. Sell strange team badges and VIP areas for your stadium. Sell odd-looking balls if you have to. If it doesn't affect gameplay, I really don't mind. For the purists, sell retro cosmetics. Licence kits from yesteryear. If EA sold Chelsea's Commodore kit from the 1980s for a fiver, I'm not sure I'd be able to resist buying it. Throw in the Autoglass one and I'd probably subscribe.
There's huge potential, EA money man, for revenue to come pouring in from all over the shop. You just have to be brave enough to make a leap of faith, to move with the times, to shake things up. I believe in you!
The thing is, EA is sort of doing this already. It's leaning into the seasons model, dipping its toe into the battle pass system, and testing the waters with non-football related cosmetics. For the launch of FIFA 22, EA sold anime cosmetics for the first time. You can buy an anime mecha kit for your team. Really.
Doing all this - make Ultimate Team free-to-play, selling premium battle passes and going harder on seasons and cosmetics - would not take away from what makes the mode great. Building an ultimate team, slowly but surely improving it over time, making coins from the transfer market, tinkering with formations and chemistry, and then taking everything into a match, either offline or online, would all still be possible. I'd argue it would be a more rewarding experience, because if you see your opponent with a coveted icon card, you'll know they didn't drop a grand on packs to get it - they earned it from playing FIFA.
Now that's fairness.