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Published: 11/Mar/2021 15:16by David Purcell
Love it or hate it, Ultimate Team was revolutionary for the FIFA franchise. EA SPORTS capitalized on a card collecting trend and that clamour for adding to your collection moved over to their video games, making FUT one of the biggest sources of revenue each year. But if EA Gate has taught us something, it’s that the game mode needs to evolve again.
It’s a simple concept. That’s what makes Ultimate Team so successful. Players jump into the game to play and earn rewards. Along the way you can chance their arm buying FIFA Points, spend that virtual currency on packs and see what random players you can get from it. Sometimes you might win the lottery, other times you will walk away with a mediocre selection of cards – or ‘fodder.’
Many years have passed since its inception, having released in March 2009, and annual refreshes have given us more content to engage with. There’s weekly Squad Building Challenges to complete, a Team of the Week every Wednesday, rewards for multiple competitions coming out through the week, not to mention seasonal promos like FUT Player Days and Team of the Year.
While it may feel sometimes like there are quiet days in the mode, we have potentially been spoiled with a stacked calendar. That’s one sign that things are starting to plateau.
On March 10, 2021, a viral trend spread on Twitter like wildfire – ‘EA Gate’ – and it highlighted potentially the biggest issue of all.
A leaked conversation allegedly between a player and EA employee showed a negotiation for rare Ultimate Team cards, namely ICONs. It claims cards that are now impossible to find on the market like Moments Ruud Gullit and Moments Ronaldo are being sold off in packages, for real cash.
One message said: “People are paying $2500 for R9 (Ronaldo) Moments and $1000 for Gullit Moments just to get them listed on the market.” Another message reads: “At the moment we have two packages and they are three ICONs or three ICONs plus TOTY.”
Other users claimed discussions were taking place on WhatsApp, and once a package was chosen, the cards would appear in accounts as untradeable items – as if they had been part of a FUT pack.
— Arcade-Fut (@FutArcade) March 10, 2021
After spending years removing features that allow for potentially illegal trading of FUT items – selling cards or coins for cash – EA Gate’s charges would be very damaging if true. In various court cases lodged against EA over gambling concerns, the publisher always remained strong in proclaiming items cannot be bought or sold with real money.
This would uncover a black market. One that goes against everything the developers have been talking about.
In an official statement, they said: “A thorough investigation is underway, and if we identify improper conduct, we will take swift action. We want to be clear – this type of behavior is unacceptable, and we in no way condone what is alleged to have happened here. We understand how this creates concern about unfair balance in the game and competition.”
The devil is in the detail here, though. While almost everybody would agree that if an employee has been up to no good, the only blame at EA’s door would be in relation to preventative measures. It’s never their intention to see this happen.
However, this illegal market that has potentially been uncovered brings about a much broader concern – why are people paying up to $1,000 for a single item?
At a glance, that seems very expensive for one item. The idea that you would spend over $50 on a game and then over ten times that amount on micro-transactions would be a wild thought when this mode was first created. In 2021, that is what we’re seeing for many players over the course of a year, so some appear to be trying shortcuts to guarantee themselves the top prizes.
Correlating with that trend of increased spending by players is the increased price of items. Moments ICONs are three or four times more expensive than what the top players used to be, possibly as a result of more FUT packs being opened and access to rewards being greater.
Let’s move away from the price discussion, though, because there is one particular argument that’s making waves in the community. These underhand tactics only exist as a result of limited supply, rightly or wrongly. The point couldn’t have been put any better than by MavricPlays, an EA partnered Game Changers streamer.
After the EA Gate allegations were made, he said: “People buying ICONs is not acceptable, but at the same – I’m sorry EA, I know you’re not going to want to hear this and I’m a Game Changer, but this is your fault.
“You made ICONs and the cards people want completely unobtainable to everyone. I’m sat here with coins to buy R9, and I’ve had to wait 17 days so far, and I haven’t even seen him on the market. It’s not that I’ve missed it, I haven’t even seen him.
“Don’t release a Moments R9 for 15 million if you’re not willing to stock the market with it. And stocking the market with it means that some people are going to get lucky and make 15 million coins. That’s what you have to accept. You’ve created this card. You’ve created this market.”
— Karasuno Mav (@MavricPlays) March 10, 2021
He admitted to spending thousands of his own hard-earned cash on FIFA Points this year, which is the case for many streamers and content creators. They aspire to have the biggest and the best cards in their squad, many of which are unobtainable by casuals. Yet, systematically that goal is increasingly being made less possible and it’s not just a price issue.
The market is a very important element in Ultimate Team, but what we’re seeing here is a classic case of scarcity principle. The demand is so high for a product and supply is extremely low, meaning the players start to challenge the set price ranges – by not listing their items until they change. This has led to the extinction of cards and the system clearly needs to adapt.
The current model was partly brought in to prevent too much price fluctuation (also to stop coin sellers), though managing it in this way has not just proven to be difficult, but instead, left it in an untenable position.
A consensus for change appears to be forming in the FIFA community, too, with Nepenthez also stating: “I think what we ultimately learned today (not that we didn’t really know it already) is that FUT needs a rebuild from the bottom up. The game mode has so many huge issues, gameplay, economy, time Vs Skill Vs reward issues, it just needs to be scrapped and start again.”
I think what we ultimately learned today (not that we didn't really know it already) is that FUT needs a rebuild from the bottom up. The game mode has so many huge issues, gameplay, economy, time Vs Skill Vs reward issues, it just needs to be scrapped and start again.
— NepentheZ (@NepentheZ) March 11, 2021
Whether or not the EA Gate claims are true or not is irrelevant to the argument for fundamental restructuring. What this very public controversy has done is shine a torch on a problem FUT players are trying to solve themselves, though it should not be down to them.
There needs to be a new system introduced that reshapes this popular mode and put ‘earning’ at the very center of what it means to unlock the rarest players, rather than operating by chance – especially when the probability of securing the best cards are becoming slimmer by the day.
You’re having to firstly muster up enough coins to even be able to bid for one, which can take an age in itself. Secondly, even after all that grinding, a barren market could still prevent you from getting the item you want. At some stage, this negative domino effect is likely to have serious implications. The formulation of a black market, if one exists, would be just the latest symptom of decline.
In FIFA 22, there needs to be a total restructure of the Ultimate Team game mode – because the current market system is well past its sell-by date. EA Gate shows us that.