The recent article calling out EA Sports and FIFA Ultimate Team and their shocking and insidious gambling mechanics garnered a few responses. One in particular comes from Duane at Baharukiya and can be read below.

This goes back to when I was a sales assistant at Blockbuster. Our store had seven members of staff total, with only one of those (our Manager) being full time.

Every year we obviously had the big games releases. Assassins Creed, Call of Duty and FIFA were the big ones in our area, and this one guy bought FIFA every year that I was there. (I think I started in 2010 and stayed till the store was closed in 2013).

I can’t remember which version was the first to include Ultimate Team, but this went on with the latter two versions of the game whilst my store was still open.

So anyway, the story goes that the guy had an account with us. He and his family (girlfriend and very young daughter) used to come in at the weekend and rent a film. He’d also pre-order games with us, most notably FIFA. When Ultimate Team came out he started also buying Xbox Live Points cards (or whatever the currency was called then). Starting off with one of the mid-tier cards once a fortnight but began to escalate.

Then we went through a spell where we weren’t getting any delivered for a while, I think the company was trying to broker a deal like GAME had where they could just print the codes off but our till systems were archaic. (we’d have to type commands in to get them to do anything that was more complicated than scanning a barcode). But he’d still come in and see if we had any.

A few months after release he’d suddenly trade the game in, taking the much lower cash price for it (and as everyone knows, FIFA’s lose their cash price incredibly quickly). No questions were asked, because although he was a regular that we’d all talk to about stuff, you just didn’t really ask why people were trading stuff in.

As we were part-time, there wasn’t the communication that customer X had been in that day and traded in a copy of FIFA. So it seemed a bit odd then when he came in and bought a pre-owned copy of the game, I remember selling him one on one occasion and said I thought he already had it.

Turns out his girlfriend had persuaded him to trade it in, he’d been spending money from their joint account on card packs through Xbox Live itself, without her knowledge and had on a few occasions left them short of being able to buy essentials. This happened a few times.

It got worse when the next edition of FIFA came out, the pattern carried on, except he’d gotten himself into credit card debt with it. His girlfriend came into the store and even phoned the store on a few occasions, begging us not to sell him the game or any points cards (when we’d have them in stock).

My manager and I had a chat about it, spoke to our Regional Manager who, as far as RM’s go, was a decent bloke. It was decided we’d put a warning on his account that would flash up reminding staff members that it wasn’t advisable to sell him anything he could use to put the family further into debt.

Obviously though it wasn’t really enforceable and was easily bypassed as it literally was just a line of text that appeared on his account (which he didn’t have to use to buy stuff anyway, only to rent). He knew it was a bad pattern to be in but just couldn’t help himself and being next door to a Sainsbury’s he could easily get what he wanted from there so our efforts couldn’t really amount to much.

All of it has left me with a strong opinion on Loot Box mechanisms in games though and I actually think Fortnite’s model is a much better one because you can see exactly what you’re buying, even if it is still tied to a virtual currency with prices that don’t fit the blocks of currency that you can buy.

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