An Austrian court has ordered Sony Interactive Entertainment to refund payments of €338.26 to PlayStation-owning FIFA players.
The case involves the controversial issue of loot boxes. Loot boxes are virtual 'treasure chests', containing undisclosed items that can be used in games, such as skins, tools, weapons and so on - depending on the type of game. Some of the items are particularly rare or can carry high-status and bragging rights within a game and beyond. But they are usually not free... which is why they sometimes bump up against gambling laws in some countries.
In this latest Austrian case, the Austrian court considered the very popular FIFA Ultimate Team card packs to be illegal gambling. This is because the items could be sold on for a profit, which gave the randomised items a level of financial value.
Incidentally, the reason Sony was sued in this case (rather than the games maker) is that the packs are purchased through the PlayStation Store and therefore the purchasing contracts are with Sony, rather than with the creators of the game.
It's important to note that this decision by the Austrian court does not bring an end to this matter, or this wider debate over loot boxes. Sony is able to appeal against this decision, so it is up to them whether to launch such an appeal.
This situation calls to mind a separate decision from 2018, in which a Dutch court ruled that the FIFA card packs violated Dutch gambling laws, but that decision was overturned last year by the country's highest administrative court.
Meanwhile, in the UK, the government is still deciding how best to regulate loot boxes. The latest Government response in July 2022 has stated that "academic research had not yet established a causal link between loot box spending and problem gambling behaviours", rejecting the idea to expand the Gambling Act to cover loot boxes, but keeping its position under review.
It seems ironic that, in each country, these cases involve giving lawyers a lot of loot, entering a national court, and coming out with a different (some would say randomised) result.
Padronus, a law firm that specialises in recovering losses from online casinos told GamesWirtschaft that more than 1,000 FIFA users have been in contact with the company with claims of around €800, although some extreme cases go up to €85,000. However, the court ordered Sony to refund payments of €338.26. The verdict is not yet final as Sony is able to appeal against this decision.