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GAMING & ESPORTS

EA Sports’ Ultimate Team Mode is Serious Business

Few industries benefited more from our year of pandemic quarantine than the world of video games. And we can count Electronic Arts among the developers and publishers who enjoyed massive windfalls thanks to gamers who were forced to stay home.

Their three big sports franchises were especially big winners.

EA Sports’ Ultimate Team game mode, in which players can earn, trade, or buy virtual packs to create the greatest virtual squad fantasy-style, earned a whopping $1.623 billion in fiscal year 2021 across the FIFA, Madden, and NHL franchises, according to the company’s latest 10-K annual filing.

EA Sports’ longtime slogan is “It’s in the Game.”

But perhaps “It’s in the Game Mode” captures things more effectively.

“During the COVID-19 pandemic, we have seen increased demand for our products and services and changing player behavior with more people staying at home,” the report read. “Our financial results and operating metrics benefited during fiscal year 2021 from these factors.”

That $1.623 billion in Ultimate Team revenue is up from $1.491 billion in fiscal year 2020 and $1.369 billion in 2019, per the report. That amount is a significant chunk of EA’s $5.629 billion revenue total during FY21 — a full 29%, up 2% year over year.

What the company called “a substantial portion” of the Ultimate Team revenue came from FIFA players themselves, the report said. In an earnings report last month, EA said that FIFA 21 reached 25 million users across several consoles and devices.

As with many major virtual and online-based economies, however, there’s an unfortuante risk of fraud and exploitation, and EA Sports’ games were not totally immune — especially FIFA. Allegations were made and investigations were conducted regarding an EA employee who was selling rare virtual FIFA cards for as much as $2,500.

If that doesn’t speak to how massive the consumer investment in Ultimate Team truly is, nothing does.

“Virtual economies that we have established in many of our games are subject to abuse, exploitation and other forms of fraudulent activity that can negatively impact our business,” the EA report said. “The abuse or exploitation of our virtual economies have included the illegitimate or unauthorized generation and sale of virtual items,
including in black markets. Our online services have been impacted by in-game exploits and the use of automated or other fraudulent processes to generate virtual item or currency illegitimately, and such activity may continue.”

These abuses and exploits may result in lost revenue, and EA is likely to incur additional costs as it invests in safeguards. But in the big picture, Ultimate Team’s particular method of getting gamers addicted to the pursuit of the best online lineup possible continues to be a bigger and bigger financial winner for Electronic Arts, a trend that should continue even as the pandemic subsides and the world opens back up.

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