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Class-action lawsuit targets NBA 2K’s microtransactions

Illinois parent alleges MyTeam’s loot boxes exploit children

Kevin Durant of the Brooklyn Nets gestures to the camera in front of a basketball goal Image: Visual Concepts/2K Sports
Owen S. Good is a longtime veteran of video games writing, well known for his coverage of sports and racing games.

Take-Two Interactive, the parent company of 2K Sports and publisher of NBA 2K22, has been sued by an Illinois parent over the manner in which the game handles random draws in its popular MyTeam card collection/player management mode.

The case, moved from state court to federal court on Take-Two’s motion, alleges “unfair, deceptive, and unlawful practices, including illegal gambling practices.” The plaintiff seeks class-action status for the case, and at least $5 million in damages. Take-Two Interactive is the only defendant.

A Take-Two representative declined to comment to Polygon, saying the company did not comment on legal matters.

NBA 2K’s MyTeam functions a lot like EA Sports’ Ultimate Team modes, which have likewise been hauled before courts and legislative hearings over loot box practices. Players acquire packs, whose contents are unknown, for an in-game currency that is both freely acquired and bought with real money. Inside the packs are players and other items of varying rarity and usefulness.

The Illinois suit alleges that NBA 2K22’s payment scheme “psychologically distance[s]” players from the reality of spending real money. Such transactions are also attractive to minor children who have less understanding about the differences between spending real currency and virtual currency. Kids are also unaware that these purchases are not refundable, and they usually make them with their parents’ credit cards.

Lawmakers and consumer advocates have equated MyTeam and Ultimate Team’s virtual card collection with outright gambling, though representatives for EA Sports and the Entertainment Software Association deny that is the case, much less is it intended. Loot boxes started drawing mainstream outrage and attention in 2017, when several AAA video games — most conspicuously Star Wars Battlefront 2 — used them in various indirect pay-to-win schemes.

In 2019, Sen. Josh Hawley (R-MO) proposed a bill banning the sale of loot boxes to children; the legislation attracted bipartisan sponsorship but otherwise has gone nowhere in Congress. A state law proposed in Hawaii’s legislature in 2017 likewise failed to advance. Regulators in Belgium also ruled, in 2018, that loot boxes in Blizzard Entertainment’s Overwatch were analogous to gambling; Blizzard disagreed but pulled the content from sale in that nation anyway.

Though microtransactions still play a large role in NBA 2K22, the series shifted its tone after 2019’s NBA 2K20, which was marketed with YouTube videos that emphasized the gambling themes of several minigames.

Electronic Arts has gone further in self-regulating its FIFA Ultimate Team. Last year it started offering “preview packs” of cards, in which players could see their contents before buying the pack. In 2020, EA Sports launched a tool called FIFA Playtime, which allowed players (or their parents) to set limits on the time and money they spend in all modes of the game. And in 2018, in response to anti-loot box outcry, the publisher started revealing the odds of drawing certain cards and items from the different packs players may buy.

Loot boxes, virtual currency, and other microtransactions have driven revenue for NBA 2K, FIFA, and other full-price video games sold by both Take-Two Interactive and Electronic Arts. Take-Two reported net bookings (total products and services sold digitally, or physical products distributed to retailers) of $3.1 billion in its most recent fiscal year, with NBA 2K cited as a major contributor to that. In EA’s most recent fiscal year, ending March 31, 2021, Ultimate Team accounted for $1.6 billion in revenue.

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