Video games have always been a huge part of my life. I spent countless hours in my childhood feeling the warm glow of the screen radiating against my face and it’s something that’s always stayed with me.
That was until recently, when my approach towards gaming started to change.
I didn’t enjoy playing them any more, and I realised it was a direct result of spending money on microtransactions.
Microtransactions are the purchases players can make ‘in-game’ and opening packs in FIFA’s Ultimate Team were my Achilles’ heel.
The aim of the game is to build a team around your favourite players, both past and present. It’s essentially a digitalised football sticker book where you collect, sell and trade cards with the FIFA community as you work (or pay) towards your ‘ultimate team’.
The game mode does not require any additional money, but money does significantly speed up the process and help gain an advantage over the competition.
It wasn’t until I got my first job and a regular paycheck that my repeat spending began.
It started small and sporadic; £15 here or there, which is easily justified towards a game I have enjoyed playing since 1998. However, I soon became accustomed to spending money on packs, and started to spend more money and more frequently.
Over the course of two years, I spent in excess of £1,000.
I must clarify that I never spent beyond my means; I was still paying my bills and saving for a rainy day, but a significant chunk of my disposable income went towards FIFA.
Upon reflection, the biggest issue for me was not necessarily the amount of money I spent. Yes, it was a lot of money to pay out on a video game, especially considering I don’t have anything to show for it; it is an annual game and anything earned or bought cannot be transferred into the next installment.
But why was I almost compulsively doing this?
I predominantly spent money when I was alone and bored. FIFA can be quite repetitive, especially on your own, so opening packs added some excitement, for a while, and the cost of excitement wasn’t cheap.
It is possible to purchase FIFA points – the ‘in-game’ currency used to open packs – in bundles worth up to £80.
On one particular occasion, I bought several in one day.
It truly felt like gambling.
It would have been smart to stop there, but it subsequently led me to buy more – to cover my losses – in a weird way. I hoped that it would make me feel better for wasting money.
It was very easy to lose track of exactly how much I was spending.
Even if I wasn’t directly spending money, I began to feel awful just playing the game, knowing I’d invested a lot financially.
There was an added pressure as such; I felt that I had to be good because of it. I needed to be better than I was, and I never felt I reached the level of my spending. It became frustrating and a chore to play, even if I was winning.
During this time, I lost the sense of why I played games in the first place; to feel a sense of achievement, to escape into another world, but most importantly to have fun with friends.
Issues surrounding microtransactions have continued to gain media coverage in recent years.
Belgium and The Netherlands have banned FIFA points, with France attempting to follow suit by suing EA for not labelling the Ultimate Team game mode as gambling.
I personally feel like this is the right way to go; there should be more regulation concerning the purchasing of microtransactions from the game’s developers, especially when a significant portion of the player base are children and young adults who might be at risk of developing addictive tendencies.
In fact, Ultimate Team microtransactions now make more money than people purchasing the game itself. It accounted for a staggering 28% of the company’s net revenues.
But when FIFA Ultimate Team lead producer Garreth Reeder was recently asked if the company should be doing more to protect gamers, he responded: ‘No, it’s maybe – based on feedback – something we look at down the road.’
Contemporary games are plagued with microtransactions and are changing the way games are being designed and consumed by creating a problem, and selling you a solution.
Until the UK bans the selling of microtransactions, the best thing you can do right now is take charge of your own spending.
There are simple things you can do, if you feel like it’s becoming compulsive, such as removing your bank details from your console, making the purchase of FIFA points a more deliberate choice. However, what allowed me to stop, almost too easily, was working out how much I had spent.
The realisation that I had spent over £1,000 on something I didn’t even enjoy that much was truly eye-opening, proving it had just become a bad habit. Plus, since returning to university, working part-time, joining a gym and playing for a football team again (which is much cheaper and more enjoyable anyway), I haven’t even switched on my console in months.
It isn’t fundamentally wrong to spend money on something you enjoy, but like many gambling adverts, when the fun stops, stop.
Which I did.
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