Electronic Arts (EA) are being sued over the alleged use of patented dynamic difficulty technology to encourage lootbox purchases in EA Sports titles.
GamesIndustry.biz reports that Jason Zajonc, Danyael Williams, and Pranko Lozano have filed a suit in the US District Court of Northern California; accusing EA of using their Dynamic Difficulty Adjustment patented technology across their EA Sports games. This includes Madden NFL, FIFA, and NHL as far back as 2017.
The lawsuit accuses EA of making the dynamic AI difficulty to encourage players to buy Player Packs; the games’ loot boxes. They claim that even players with high stats end up not playing as effectively as they should. The suit also states that if EA are using this technology, they are not disclosing it.
“EA’s undisclosed use of Difficulty Adjusting Mechanisms deprives gamers who purchase Player Packs of the benefit of their bargains because EA’s Difficulty Adjusting Mechanisms, rather than only the stated ranking of the gamers’ Ultimate Team players and the gamers’ relative skill, dictates, or at least highly influences the outcome of the match.”
[…] “This is a self-perpetuating cycle that benefits EA to the detriment of EA Sports gamers, since Difficulty Adjusting Mechanisms make gamers believe their teams are less skilled than they actually are, leading them to purchase additional Player Packs in hopes of receiving better players and being more competitive.”
The lawsuit states this would be in violation of the California Consumers Legal Remedies Act, False Advertising Law, Unfair Competition Law, and classify as unjust enrichment.
The lawsuit seeks EA to not “misrepresent” Player Packs and Cards, including the use of (in GamesIndustry.biz’ words) “a corrective advertising campaign.” The suit also seeks restitution of funds by any action the court deems unlawful. EA later issued a statement to GamesIndustry.biz, stating “We believe the claims are baseless and misrepresent our games, and we will defend.”
In October 2019, EA had filed another patent to encourage microtransactions via creating a “sense of urgency“ as a microtransaction item decreases in “value” over time.
In earlier news, EA face a fine of up to €10 Million EUR over “illegal loot boxes” in FIFA games, after a Dutch court ruled them to be gambling without a licence. EA are also facing a class action lawsuit in Canada over loot boxes across several sports games. These include the Madden NFL series, and EA Sport’s NHL series.
EA removed premium currency from FIFA 18 and FIFA 19, after Belgium authorities deemed loot boxes as being on-par with gambling. In addition several companies pulled their games from service within Belgium.
In 2018, the UK Gambling Commission refuted the claim made by some media outlets that loot boxes are akin to gambling. In 2019 the UK Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee recommended the UK government ban the sale of loot boxes to children, after its nine month inquiry into “immersive and addictive technologies.”
The inquiry involved speaking to industry representatives, and while some felt the proceedings were intentionally badgering there were blunderous comments by some.
EA representatives claimed loot boxes were “surprise mechanics,” while an Epic Games representative said they “would disagree with the statement that Epic makes money from people playing the games.“ The report laments that “some representatives” chose to lie, in the committee’s opinion.
While the UK’s National Health Service (NHS) would recommend a ban on games with loot boxes aimed at children in January of this year, UK trade body The Association for UK Interactive Entertainment (UKIE) reiterated many tools and methods are already in place.
In early June, the UK’s Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport then called for evidence that loot boxes should be deemed gambling. This later lead to the UK’s House of Lords Select Committee calling on the UK government to “act immediately” and classify loot boxes as gambling.
In late July, an European Union Report recommended tackling loot boxes via new consumer protection regulation, rather than via gambling based ones.
Image: EA Sports