As EA reveals the latest additions to FIFA Ultimate Team for FIFA 20, it's feeling more heat than ever over its reliance on the mode's heavily monetized loot box mechanics, which EA recently characterized as "surprise mechanics." Restrictive laws in Belgium; bipartisan bills in the U.S., and other measures have put an uncomfortable spotlight on the immensely profitable but controversial mode, forcing EA to open up about its business practices.
Asked what it's been like for the FUT team at a recent event, producer Gareth Reeder said such controversies are "always a challenge."
"Feedback is always a good thing. We're looking at the industry, we're looking at what people are doing," Reeder tells USgamer. "Last year, publishing the pack odds was a reaction to that... listening to people and providing information that they need."
EA's new policy was adopted as loot boxes began facing increased scrutiny in Europe and abroad. EA creative director Matthew Prior characterized the decision to reveal the pack odds as "showing players what they're buying with their points."
The rub for many players is that FIFA's pack odds can be extremely low. While the odds of getting an 84+ overall player was listed as being around 4.5 percent in September, the chances of pulling a special variant of Lionel Messi from the Team of the Year packs in January were less than 1 percent. That didn't stop one user from dropping thousands of dollars on TOTY packs... and coming up with exactly nothing.
Reeder says the odds are intended to keep FUT fresh for the entirety of the year. "We're always trying to make sure that we have the right balance of players coming out, and making sure that people can still strive toward that endgame content without having players so frequently early on. The nature of our economy is that we're a full year title, so we want to make sure that the right scale of content is coming out, and in terms of rewards and new modes and the ways to earn content, we've got a good balance of ability to earn rewards through play."
For those frustrated by their inability to get a top-level player without spending money, Reeder points to the transfer market. "The thing we've tried to stress is the transfer market and the ability to get the content within the economy of the game, then either be able to sell players on the transfer market, or through modes like FUT Champions or Squad Building Champions. We really feel like we have a really good, broad way of getting to the content you want."
EA has indeed become less stingy with its rewards over the past year. FIFA 19 featured a large number of dynamic challenges, which yielded strong players in exchange for completing in-game challenges. Solo Battles, a mode in which you defeat CPU-controlled versions of teams pulled from the cloud, also rewarded players with large amounts of coins and packs on a weekly basis.
Fans have also turned playing the transfer market into something of an artform. Savvy players will take advantage of the market by buying up key cards ahead of SBC releases, or by taking advantage of events like Ultimate Scream. With a little luck, and plenty of patience, it's possible to crest the $1 million coin mark without spending any money at all. Still, punishing pack odds and the lingering negativity around loot boxes has impacted FUT's reputation among both casual and hardcore followers.
With FIFA 20, EA is introducing objectives designed to run over the course of multiple weeks. Called Season Objectives, their rewards have the potential to include supremely good players like Eden Hazard. This will help further close the gap between the free-to-play crowd and those who don't mind dropping a couple grand on packs... provided f2p players are willing to put in the time.
On the lighter side, EA is also bolstering FUT's customization. In FIFA 20, players will be able to unlock celebrations, tifos, themes, and special items to further distinguish their teams and stadiums. Some of these will be acquired by completing unique mission objectives.
FIFA Ultimate Team continues to be immensely successful for EA even amid the controversies it has faced. In an SEC filing earlier this year, Ultimate Team across all EA's sports titles represented a massive 28 percent of EA's total revenue—up from 16 percent in 2017. A "substantial portion" of that was derived from FUT.
When FIFA 20 launches September 27, FUT will doubtlessly be extremely successful once again. Increased scrutiny from government watchdogs may threaten its revenue in the future, but for now, there's no end in sight for FUT's seemingly bottomless popularity.