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Groups urge U.S. to probe 'loot box' on Electronic Arts video game

In the game, players build a soccer team using avatars of real players, and compete against other teams. In a letter to the FTC, the groups said the game usually costs $50 to $100 but that the company would push players to spend more while they played.

FILE PHOTO: People play Electronic Arts' "FIFA" video game at the Microsoft Xbox booth at the Electronic Entertainment Expo, or E3, in Los Angeles
People play Electronic Arts' "FIFA" video game at the Microsoft Xbox booth at the Electronic Entertainment Expo, or E3, in Los Angeles, California, on June 16, 2015.
Lucy Nicholson/REUTERS
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WASHINGTON — Consumer advocates on Thursday urged U.S. regulators to investigate video game maker Electronic Arts Inc for the misleading use of a digital "loot box" that "aggressively" urges players to spend more money while playing a popular soccer game.

The groups Fairplay, Center for Digital Democracy and 13 other organizations urged the Federal Trade Commission to probe the EA game "FIFA: Ultimate Team."

In the game, players build a soccer team using avatars of real players, and compete against other teams. In a letter to the FTC, the groups said the game usually costs $50 to $100 but that the company would push players to spend more while they played.

"It entices players to buy packs in search of special players," said the letter sent by these groups along with the Consumer Federation of America and Massachusetts Council on Gaming and Health and others.

The packs, or loot boxes, are packages of digital content sometimes purchased with real money that give the purchaser a potential advantage in a game. They can be purchased with digital currency, which can obscure how much is spent, they said

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"The chances of opening a coveted card, such as a Player of the Year, are minuscule unless a gamer spends thousands of dollars on points or plays for thousands of hours to earn coins," the groups said in the letter.

The letter also linked the loot boxes to gambling.

"In some cases, young people who have already developed problem gambling behaviors seek out games with loot boxes; for others, loot boxes are a gateway to problem gambling," they wrote.

The FTC, which goes after companies that engage in deceptive behavior, held a workshop on loot boxes in 2019. In a "staff perspective" which followed, the agency noted that video game microtransactions have become a multi-billion-dollar market.

(Reporting by Diane Bartz; editing by David Gregorio.)

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