Previewing a pack still takes players through the animation where highly rated players, in this case, Liverpool center back Joe Gomez, are revealed. | Image: EA Vancouver/Electronic Arts via Polygon
The catch: If you don’t like the contents, you wait 24 hours to see a new pack
FIFA 21 Ultimate Team players may now preview the specific contents of every pack of cards sold in EA Sports’ extremely lucrative but heavily criticized mode. The change comes with certain catches, but it seems to carefully respond to long-running complaints and discomforts, ranging from government regulators in Europe to rank-and-file fans playing a microtransaction-filled game.
“Preview Packs” were introduced on Friday and are the only kind of packs sold in the FUT Shop through this year’s “Festival of FUTball”. It’s not clear if this is how any or all packs will be sold after then, though. Festival of FUTball started June 11 and runs until mid-July. FIFA 22 should launch in early fall.
How does a FIFA Ultimate Team Preview Pack work?
All packs for sale in the FUT Shop have an eye icon and a button to trigger the preview. Doing that exposes its contents as if the player actually had bought the pack and opened it.
Once the player has seen the revealed cards, they may then buy the pack with either FUT Coins (the free in-game currency) or FUT Points (the premium). If they don’t like what they see, they don’t have to buy the pack. But there will now be a 24-hour wait period before they can preview another pack or buy a different one in its class. If they buy the pack, that timer immediately expires.
Image: EA Vancouver/Electronic Arts via Polygon
Two points: First, previewing a pack does not call out which of the items, if any, are duplicates already present in the player’s FUT collection (which can be quite vast). Also, there’s no way to buy a pack with its contents sight unseen. Players must preview it before making their decision to buy.
In effect, they’re getting a complete look at what is available to them for the next 24 hours, somewhat like the daily-items menu players see in games like EA’s F1 2020 or Knockout City. They can only speed up the rotation of new items by buying the ones they’ve seen.
Also, “Packs not directly obtained from the FUT Store, such as rewards from Division Rivals, or earned from an Objective or SBC will not be Preview Packs,” EA Sports said, “and will continue to function as they do now.”
The Preview Pack is applicable to all six standard packs in the FUT Shop as well as the three “Promo Packs” currently available. The only difference with the Promo Packs is their contents were already on a time-limited cycle. So if you preview a pack that was already set to expire in 45 minutes, you see the next pack in 45 minutes, not a day later.
The changes come after two headline-grabbing incidents renewed criticism of EA’s microtransaction practices in its global best-seller. In March, EA Sports confirmed it was investigating allegations that a company employee was selling rare, in-game FUT items. EA Sports suspended all discretionary awards of FIFA 21 items pending the results of the investigation. (EA Sports has not since communicated with FUT players about this probe or what it uncovered.)
Image: EA Vancouver/Electronic Arts via Polygon
Then, in April, Canadian Broadcasting Corporation News published two leaked internal documents showing EA Vancouver’s thoughts and discussion of how FUT fit into the studio and its publisher’s priorities for FIFA 21. A bullet point in the document said, “FUT is the cornerstone and we are doing everything we can to drive players there.”
CBC quoted its unnamed, internal source as saying, “I don’t know why anyone would ever put that in print at the company. It’s getting harder and harder to defend what is very obviously unregulated gambling.”
Electronic Arts issued a lengthy formal reply to the CBC’s reporting, in which the publisher said, “We do not ‘push’ people to spend in our games,” and that the summertime period — which the leaked document concerns — is “a very active time” for FUT players that requires new content, which the company supports with “extensive non monetized rewards.”
“Nothing in the leaked document contradicts this in any way,” Electronic Arts insisted. “It shows how we are supporting engagement in our game during the summer period, not spending.” EA also restated it “firmly disagree[s] that FIFA or any of our games involve gambling.”
Still, FIFA is a $59.99 (now $69.99 on PS5 Xbox Series X) annual game, and FUT is an open-ended revenue stream drawing on players who have bought that game. It is a tremendous driver of revenue and profit for the publisher. In May, analyst Daniel Ahmad noted that Electronic Arts realized more than $1.6 billion in revenue from its Ultimate Team modes (the Madden NFL series has one, too) in its most recent fiscal year, almost tripling what the company pulled in six years earlier.
How much does EA earn from Ultimate Team across FIFA, Madden and NFL?
EA Net Revenue from Ultimate Team:
FY 2021: $1.62bn
FY 2020: $1.49bn
FY 2019: $1.37bn
FY 2018: $1.18bn
FY 2017: $775m
FY 2016: $660m
FY 2015: $587m
The majority is from FIFA Ultimate Team ofc. pic.twitter.com/xUbNUx6R62
— Daniel Ahmad (@ZhugeEX) May 26, 2021
Since it launched in 2009, Football Ultimate Team’s moneymaking power has spawned black markets and other illicit behavior, while drawing criticism of EA’s business practices and threats of regulation from European and American lawmakers.
In 2018, EA Sports began revealing the odds of what type of items players can expect to find within the game’s different types of virtual card packs. In 2020, FIFA developers launched a tool called FIFA Playtime, which allowed players (or their parents) to monitor and control the amounts of time and money they spend in the game. Eurogamer also noted, in reporting on pack previews on Friday, that FIFA 21 Ultimate Team started offering cosmetic items outside of its loot boxes beginning in May.