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Video Games and Sport Gambling in the Modern Age : An Examination of the FIFA Video Game Franchise

   Faculty of Life and Health Sciences

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  Dr Conor Heffernan, Dr P Kitchin  No more applications being accepted  Competition Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

About the Project

This studentship is based in Belfast. 

The FIFA video game franchise is one of the most popular games of the modern age. Created by EA Sports in 1993, FIFA has become a dominant form of ‘sport gaming, which also influences mainstream soccer cultures. In 2009, FIFA introduced the ‘FIFA Ultimate Team’ (FUT) feature which continues to this day. FUT is an online form of esport which pits users from around the world against one another.

FUT involves the creation of a team using football players who can be acquired throughout the so-called ‘unpacking of bronze, silver, and gold packs’ or ‘loot packs’ (Siuda, 2021: 76). Players earn points/‘coins’ by completing tasks or by purchasing ‘FUT points’ using money. In 2021, FIFA’s FUT earned EA over US$1billion.

Since 2015, FIFA has come under scrutiny for the use of ‘loot packs.’ Defined by Lui et al. (2020: 7-8) as a ‘consumable virtual item which, upon redemption, provides the player with a randomised assortment of further virtual items within a video game,’ loot boxes have been labelled by many as online gambling.

Loot boxes can be compared to a slot machine in a casino. Players exchange money for an opportunity to win unknown prizes. In FUT players exchange points earned within the game or actual currencies. Many argue that it is impossible to do well in FUT without spending money (Siuda, 2021: 76-80). This, critics allege, amounts to encouraging gambling among users.

In the United Kingdom, calls have been made to include video games and loot boxes in the revised iteration of the 2005 Gambling Act. Several policy reports and white papers have advised as much (Woodhouse 2019). In popular culture, media outlets have begun reporting on predominately younger FIFA players (under the age of 18) who have spent significant amounts of money on FUT packs.

This project marks the first in-depth study of the FIFA video game franchise, and the controversies surrounding its FUT game mode. It will contribute significantly to scholars understanding of the e-sport phenomenon and the gambling activities within it.

The project will do three things.

1. It provides a definitive history of the FIFA video game franchise through the use of archival work, media analysis and oral histories and situates this history within the broader development of sporting video games.

2. It examines the motivations behind the inclusion of the FUT and its impact on users interaction with the game with reference to EA annual reports, gaming media reporting and surveys within online forums like Reddit and the EA FIFA Forum.

3. It studies opposition to FUT from online gaming communities, governmental organizations, parent organizations etc. using parliamentary reports and debates from England, the UK and mainland Europe.

This project combines archival media analysis, interviews with key stakeholders from oppositional groups and surveys in online gaming communities but the exact methodology will be negotiated with the successful applicant. The research project an exciting opportunity to conduct research in the fast growing scholarly field of e-sport, online gambling, sports betting and online gaming cultures.

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