The Ultimate Team mode in FIFA has found itself at the heart of another conspiratorial scandal. Mere days ago, EA announced the end of a lawsuit which had alleged they were rigging matches. Now, some believe that an employee might be selling rare and valuable footballers for vast sums of real money. EA say they are investigating the allegations, and "will take swift action" if they uncover wrongdoing.
FIFA Ultimate Team, as I have explained more times in the past few months than in the rest of my life, is the mode where players build their own team from cards representing footballers. Rarer cards have better stats and perform better in the game. A mode heavy on loot boxes does not engender trust, and boy howdy players are perpetually suspicious of EA.
On Tuesday, Italian FIFA player Matteo Ribera posted a YouTube video showing screenshots of conversations with someone who claims to be sell ultra-rare cards, depositing them directly into people's accounts - including cards which the game usually doesn't allow people to trade. The prices are high, with the '97 Prime Icon Moments version of Ronaldo supposedly selling for $2500 (£1800). When asked if it was safe and where the cards came from, the person said "Cant tell exact how for security reasons."
Other screens going round show someone claiming they have "a mate who works at EA, and he can load any player to your account". Those mention prices like €1000 (£855) for two coveted cards. Various videos and screens supposedly show proof of previous successful transactions.
There's no proof that this 'friend of a friend who works at EA' actually exists or does, mind. This could be a cover story for a glitch, exploit, or hack - the thinnest veneer of legimacy to deflect attention and keep a lucrative illicit business secret. Or a scam? I don't know. But it wouldn't be the first time someone used insider access to their own advantage.
Spaceship MMO Eve Online notably had a huge scandal after players discovered one of the devs fixed a lottery so members of their own alliance won valuable items then suffered few consequences. And only a few months back, a Dota 2 dev had to apologise after using Valve tools to punish a player he'd bickered with over tactics in a match.
"A thorough investigation is underway, and if we identify improper conduct, we will take swift action," EA said in a statement yesterday. "We want to be clear - this type of behaviour 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. We will update the community as we get more clarity on the situation."
FUT has long had a black market selling FIFA Coins, a currency which is earned by playing and can be used to buy players and items on the in-game Transfer Market. Sellers deliver them through sneaky methods such as arranging to buy players for far more than they're worth. EA don't allow that but welp.
The other recent FUT scandal was over the long-running (but unproven) belief that the game used technology called 'Dynamic Difficulty Adjustment' to make good footballers and teams play worse, which encouraged people to buy more loot boxes to improve their team. EA have denied this for years, but evidently were disbelieved enough that several players took them to court over it. Last week EA announced the lawsuit had been dropped after they let the plaintiffs speak with their engineers.
Part of me does still find it slightly funny that Ultimate Team players are concerned about being cheated in a mode which openly fleeces people with pay-to-win loot boxes. But y'know, they know and accept that as part of the game. An EA employee making bank by covertly stacking the teams of wealthy players, should this turn out to be what's actually happening, would be just a touch beyond acceptable.Disclosure: Way back, I used to play Dota 2 with that Valve employee. Wakka wakka.