At the beginning of November, a new federal lawsuit was filed against Electronic Arts concerning its patented Dynamic Difficulty Adjustment system. The case, Zajonc v. Electronic Arts, focuses on the 2017 to 2021 versions of their Madden, FIFA, NFL, and NHL games all of which contain the ability to purchase Ultimate Team loot boxes. The plaintiffs assert that EA has used Dynamic Difficulty Adjustment in order to persuade users to purchase these in-game loot boxes.
EA’s intention with their Dynamic Difficulty Adjustment system is to use AI to easily adjust the difficulty of the game to continue to challenge their players. However, the lawsuit claims that EA’s use of the AI systematically increases the game’s difficulty and even overrides the skills of the gamers in order to keep players hooked and spend money to better their own team. Typically, this is in the form of what EA calls loot boxes which unlock a myriad of gear including a player card. These player cards can be anywhere from a typical player to a star which the user can then equip to better their team. However, by using the Dynamic Difficulty Adjustment system it devalues these higher stat players. Also mentioned in this lawsuit is EA’s refusal to disclose the use of their Dynamic Difficulty Adjustment system within the games mentioned previously.
An excerpt from the lawsuit reads:
EA’s undisclosed use of Difficulty Adjusting Mechanisms deprives gamers who purchase Player Packs of the benefit of their bargains because EA’s Difficulty Adjusting Mechanisms, rather than only the stated ranking of the gamers’ Ultimate Team players and the gamers’ relative skill, dictates, or at least highly influences the outcome of the match.
This is a self-perpetuating cycle that benefits EA to the detriment of EA Sports gamers, since Difficulty Adjusting Mechanisms make gamers believe their teams are less skilled than they actually are, leading them to purchase additional Player Packs in hopes of receiving better players and being more competitive.
This is not the only lawsuit EA is facing currently concerning Ultimate Team. One is in California claiming that Ultimate Team goes against California gambling law since EA feeds addictive behaviors within their sports games to incite players to spend money. The other is in Canada asserting that EA is breaking Canadian gambling laws through their loot boxes since EA does not currently hold a gambling license in the country.
The initial case management conference to meet with Judge Spero is set for February 12, 2021.