A FUTMAS Carol - or How EA Is Killing Its Most Popular Game Through Greed

December 17, 2019
FEATURES

It’s Christmas time. Everyone’s getting excited and all FIFA fans around the world are looking forward to EA’s Christmas promotion, FUTMAS — the traditional Christmas event on the FIFA Ultimate Team mode. It’s the platform game mode where everyone plays to earn rewards of coins and packs enabling them to buy, or pack, better players on the road to glory. Once it started though, on Friday the 13th of December, it was clear to everybody that EA was continuing down the path it’s created for itself this year. It was taking on the role of Ebeneezer Scrooge and FUTMAS is not a time for fun, but for teasing out even more pennies from the poor souls around. 

A little context, then. Every year the most played game mode in FIFA is the Ultimate Team mode. You start off with some very basic cards and play games against the computer, or online, in a multitude of modes, to earn coins. These coins can be used to buy new cards from the transfer market, or to buy packs. FIFA points can be bought with real money and these can be used as an alternative currency to buy packs instead (so we have two in-game currencies — one, coins, which are earnt and two, FIFA points, which are bought via microtransaction). Packs can also be obtained by completing squad building challenges — where EA will task the player with building a squad of players meeting certain criteria. These could be, for example, including at least one Premier League player or one special card, and once built, this squad can be exchanged for a pack. This pack is a loot box: a random number game, whereby the gamer might get Lionel Messi, or they might get Danny Drinkwater. 

What a stadium, eh?


The whole mode is compelling and millions play it. Many live and breathe it. It’s serious gaming. But EA wants to make money. In fact, this game mode makes more money than sales of the game itself. It’s big business. The way they’ve traditionally made money is by encouraging people to buy more points and open more packs. They do this by way of two key methods: one, the introduction of special cards at times throughout the year, and two, promotions. 

Special cards are upgraded versions of the base cards of players, and with different designs. There are a variety of special cards these days, ranging from Team of the Week cards where a player who performed well in real life gets a boosted card in packs, to other types such as a player who is in EA’s Team of the Year based on their performance over the calendar year. This year there are more types of special cards than ever before. This is important, and we’ll come back to it. Promotions can be tied to the release of special cards, but are also related to seasonal events such as Thanksgiving or Black Friday — where EA releases lots of promotional packs with more cards, and more chance of getting that Messi — or Christmas, where the FUTMAS event sits. 

You can imagine Sterling and Sancho are pretty decent


FUTMAS is an event the community looks forward to. It brings with it lots of boosted cards chosen by EA often because they are popular cards that fit the game’s meta, i.e. they play really well and can be considered overpowered, or OP. Last year’s event was excellent. Over ten days there were thirty special cards released via squad-building challenges. One low tier, one mid tier and one high tier. This meant whatever number of coins you had, or however many players were in your club, you could go and get one or more players that would fit in your team, be valued sensibly and last a while until better cards were available. Remember, a FUT game runs for a year until the new FIFA is launched, so as time goes on teams will improve and new cards will be released. 

Now we come to a head at this year’s FUTMAS. Before I explain what’s going down, I need to provide background of the last three months or so since this year’s game’s release. EA is clearly trying to make more money than last year, which is hardly unexpected given it is a business and all. The thing is, they’re doing it in such a way as to kill the golden goose — and in so doing are acting all Scrooge-like. Let me explain. 

A nice squad from the game's beta


FUT has a transfer market of players. At launch, there are zero players in the game. Then players start the game, get their starter packs, play games, open packs, complete Squad Building Challenges (SBCs — where you build one or more squad from players in your club according to specific requirements, and upon submission get a reward of a pack or special player) and so on. The amount of cards in the game starts low and continues to increase over time. As supply is limited, and demand for certain players is high, the cost of those cards in the market will be high. Some might appreciate over time, many will steadily go down and others will hold. When a special card is released the base one is not available in packs. So its price might go up a little bit until the special card is retired and the base card re-released. The special cards then have a finite amount of cards in the game, and their value will be dictated by demand. Are you keeping up? I know it’s a lot, but bear with me. 

So somebody who wants to get more coins than they can get just by playing the game might look to trade. So they might buy a special card before it goes out of packs, keep it a while and then flip it — sell it on for a profit. They might also see trends in the market. For instance people build teams on a Thursday ready for the Weekend League - thirty games within which your performance dictates your rank and therefore the rewards you can get. This mode is the big mode in the game with the best rewards, on paper. So everyone wants the best team. After the Weekend League? Teams are sold off to get coins and start again. An investor therefore might buy Sunday or Monday and sell Thursday. Easy coin. For people who want to maximise their coins — and get the best cards — there are myriad methods to follow and trends to watch out for. Content creators make a living just off of FUT trading, this being a particularly good one. 

FUTMAS!


This year EA is doing things differently, all sold to the populace as being a good thing, but in reality it’s turning out to be the opposite and it’s starting to force people away from the game. There’re a few things happening, each of which is a problem. 

The first big one is the influx of multiple special cards, expectedly or unexpectedly, which is regularly crashing and then depressing the market. What this means is there are the cards we’ve seen in previous years plus a whole load more. That’s fine in principle — more and better cards should be a good thing — but in practice it's not. Let’s use Sadio Mane as an example:

Sadio Mane is brilliant, isn't he?


The main picture there is his base card. 88 rated (out of 100) and very, very meta. Below are some numbers. Each of the six numbers denotes another card, and its rating. So that’s seven Mane cards in the game already and that includes two 88s, two 89s, two 90s and a 91. As there are seven cards it means there're a lot of specials. But when a new special comes out, it will mean the previous card’s values are lessened. Especially if it’s the same rating — as there are more of the roughly same quality cards about. In this case one of the 89s was totally unexpected. It’s not as good as the other 89 (the overall stat is made up of lots of individual stats which means an 89 does not equal another 89), yet people don’t realise it — or they love the card design as it looks better — and so the other 89’s price goes down more. 

The bottom line is that by EA introducing more cards, more often and unexpectedly, nobody can be confident in their investment, whether it was made to appreciate or because people just want that card. For instance, if you really like Mane, you probably want his best card. You spend your coins on it then boom, another one pops up, losing you coins instantly. So you have less spending power and you haven’t got the card you really want. It’s not making for a fun game, is it? 

Some of this year's prominent stars

This is all done to stop people accumulating in-game value and using the transfer market to build their teams, and to encourage people to spend money to get packs. But then, everyone can see that if they don’t pack who they want, the cards they get will be of less value — so why buy packs anyway? For investors, the ones EA really wants to stop, you can argue it’s fair game, but when EA keeps engineering things to crash and depress the market, the traders stop having fun, too. So EA is purposefully dampening enthusiasm in the game for everyone as the whole point of it is to build your ultimate team and nobody can. 

In addition to this, and using FUTMAS as the key example is the paucity of value in SBCs anymore. Marcus Rashford is a very meta, very OP player in the game. Below are his base card’s prices according to the brilliant Futbin.com

For that priced, Rashford is great value this year


He’s incredibly cheap, and everyone loves him. So, EA released a special Rashford card for FUTMAS last night:

This though, is the opposite of good value


So he’s plus two overall, with each of the six face stats on the card going up by two to four points. That seems decent enough, until you realise last year’s FUTMAS Rashford was a plus five overall and three to five on each face stat, as well as being half the cost of this year’s card. Oh yes, do look at his price! You can buy, on the transfer market, several players with better stats, many of which are equally meta, for far less AND they are tradeable. Here, the cards you submit in this SBC are worth in total 279,000 coins on the PS4, and once submitted they are gone forever. 

So, to bring this to a close. EA is Scrooge right now and it is at a critical point in this year’s game. They are releasing poor upgrades to market, more often, expectedly and unexpectedly, into packs and via SBCs. It is encouraging players to lose their coins or forcing them to by way of a market crash. Everybody’s hard-earned coins are worth less, or they’re losing far more. How long can this go on and people still play? At some point it must impact the pack sales as people are getting so disgusted. Look at the approval rating of the Rashford SBC:

8% like this, and that's only because they are United supporters (probably)!


So far FUTMAS has been very much A Christmas Carol by The Muppets and I really hope EA is taking notice of the community, the player base and everything else. If they are, they can learn, and pivot to a better second half of the game. If not? I fear for this game mode and EA’s goodwill. Something which should be important to them as countries lock down the ability to sell packs, something which is already the reality in Belgium. We have seven more days of FUTMAS to go, and hopefully we’ll see EA emerge from the depths of Christmas present, remember the glories of Christmases past and recognise that Christmas of the future must change for EA, and FUT, to survive.

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Luciano Howard

I've been gaming for 30+ years on the Commodore VIC-20 to the Nintendo Switch and most things in-between. I enjoy all kinds of games but if I had to pick a couple right now, I'd say I adore Mario and love Dark Souls. I can talk about either ad infinitum...