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Report: Leaked EA file shows how FIFA players are herded towards Ultimate Team

UPDATE: EA is encouraging its FIFA team to "drive" players towards its loot box heavy FIFA Ultimate Team game mode, according to a leaked 54-page document obtained by CBC. 

EA is encouraging its FIFA team to "drive" players towards its loot box heavy FIFA Ultimate Team (FUT) game mode, according to a leaked 54-page document obtained by CBC

The document was sent to CBC by a "gaming insider" and purportedly comes from EA's sports division in Burnaby, British Columbia. It looks to be a presentation designed to prepare the team for the "Run up to FIFA 21," and contains various focus points and numbers that detail the current state of the franchise along with future growth plans.

In one slide entitled '5 Things You Need To Know,' EA details how "we have more active players at this point in FIFA than ever (5.3M+ FIFA DAU / 3M+ FUT DAU)," and explains the "team is squarely focused on engaging current players through mid-September."

Notably, the publisher also states that FUT is "the cornerstone [of the franchise] and we are doing everything we can to drive players there." Another page outlines how "all roads lead to FUT," adding that "content teasers and targeted Aruba messaging will drive excitement and funnel players towards FUT from other modes." 

For those unfamiliar with FUT, the game mode allows players to build their own custom team using players obtained from loot boxes that take the form of card packs. It leans heavily on those loot boxes, which can be purchased using FIFA Coins or FIFA Points (the latter of which can be bought using real-world cash), and has become a big earner for EA. FUT has previously drawn criticism from some regulators concerned by the possible links between loot boxes and gambling, and has even been amended in certain countries that have declared the monetization method illegal.

When asked about the document, an EA spokesperson noted it was "marked privileged and confidential" and is being "viewed without context." The insider behind the leak told CBC that developers don't feel good about loot boxes, but said "we can't really do anything about it because at the end of the day, [the] company is trying to make money and satisfy investors."

The CBC report comes a few months after EA began an investigation into real-money 'content granting' in FUT after it was alleged that some of its own employees had been selling rare player cards for real-world cash. The publisher said it had found evidence of "questionable activity" during the early stages of its investigation, and pledged to continue looking into the matter. 

Update: EA has responded to the leak in a lengthy statement, and claims it does not "push" people to spend in its games. "Where we provide that choice, we are very careful not to promote spending over earning in the game, and the majority of FIFA players never spend money on in-game items," wrote the publisher. 

"Summer is a very active time in our FUT community, and we ensure more of our new content and community events in the game are centered there. The new content that we introduce throughout the year includes extensive non-monetized rewards. Decisions to spend are always entirely optional.

"Nothing in the leaked document contradicts this in any way -- it shows how we are supporting engagement in our game during the summer period, not spending. We take very seriously our responsibility to provide players a safe and fun experience."

The company said it doesn't encourage young players to spend in its titles, and strongly recommends the use of family controls that can be used to restrict what content younger players can access. It also disputed the idea that loot boxes are comparable to gambling, noting that "regulators in multiple countries around the world have stated publicly that where there is no cashout method, loot boxes do not constitute gambling."

You can read the full statement here.

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