• Ben Stower

Madden 21 is Creating a Generation of Gambling Addicts



Madden 21 is EA Sports’ latest Cleveland Steamer on virtual American Football. It has not been received well. On Twitter, #boycottmadden21 has started trending, along with #NFLdropEA. That should have the Madden execs sweating under their tailored collars, right? In all reality, they’re probably not.

What’s the problem with Madden today? Gamers around the world are saying that the developers continue to ignore what makes virtual football realistic. However, there’s something more sinister about the virtual football franchise that played an integral role in my (and many others’) childhood years.

EA Sports, and more specifically Madden, is creating a generation of gambling addicts. That statement may seem a little over the top, but hear me out. Because I couldn’t give a damn about the unrealistic gameplay, missing features, stale commentary and bugs that many YouTubers are whining about. Madden is a video game and no video game should affect someone’s life that much, no matter how bad the gameplay.

People have taken solace from the fact that official gaming journals, such as IGN and GameSpot, have finally woken up to Madden's steady downfall over the last 10 years. Both of these journals gave Madden 21 a rating of 6/10. However, this is purely from a gameplay and development standpoint. No one is addressing the real issue.

Madden Promotes Gambling Through Microtransactions


Microtransactions work by pressuring players to purchase packs or "loot boxes" with real money.

The real issue here is the microtransaction system that EA has been lining its pockets with for a number of years now. The real issue is that through microtransactions EA Sports is creating a culture of gambling within uneducated children who frankly don’t know any better. This manipulation of young, malleable minds is the heinous act of slovenly pigs scooping up as much feed as they can stomach, vomiting it out into their coffers for later and scooping up more in gaping, unyielding mouths. Consume, vomit, repeat.

I think we all have a similar image of the lowliest criminal in our minds: a slimy prick who takes candy or ice cream from the hands of children. That’s what EA Sports has become. But taking money from children (and their unaware parents) is one thing. Warping their very nature and their futures for another dollar is, quite frankly, unforgivable.

Are they doing this intentionally? You bet your sweet, money-filled arse. Studies into the correlation between gambling and video game playing have been around since the 80s.

In 1996, a study into the relationship between gambling and video-game playing behaviour in children and adolescents found that:

1. Adolescents who play video games a lot gamble more than adolescents who don’t play video games that much.

2. Gambling generally makes adolescents feel more important and take greater risks.

(Gupta & Derevensky, 1996)

Madden only really started pushing microtransactions in the last five years. It’s not outlandish to imagine that, when researching ways to make more money from their video games, EA Sports found studies such as this very inspiring. The company markets its games to younger audiences after all.

True, microtransactions have been around since 2006 and EA wasn’t the first gaming company to implement them. And there are numerous smartphone games and console games that currently use them. However, EA has made microtransactions a significant part of their gaming experience, more so than any other company. The company has received backlash numerous times for their emphasis of microtransactions in games like Star Wars Battlefront 2, Madden and FIFA.

EA gave in to the public outcry over Star Wars Battlefront, unlocking all the previously paid-for bonuses. However, in Madden, microtransactions have become a beast of childhood and parental burden. The executives have clearly steered development away from other game modes to prioritise a money-making scheme that now generates more than US$800 million dollars each year.

And why the hell not? In video games, microtransactions give players, young and old, a feeling of excitement and elation when purchasing a loot box, especially when it reveals an item of high value. Of course, there are also moments of sobering deflation when spending hard-earned money reaps little to no reward.

This is gambling, plain and simple. And it’s being pushed upon unaware children who simply think it’s part of a game they’ve already paid to play.


In fact, EA Sports has made its other game modes in Madden so unplayable through shoddy design and development that players have little choice other than to play the game modes with microtransactions.

In Madden 21, EA Sports released its newest, exciting mode called The Yard, while simultaneously disregarding its longstanding Career and Franchise modes. Guess what The Yard has. Microtransactions. Guess what MUT has. Microtransactions. Guess what the other undeveloped modes don't have. You get the point.

EA Sports has found the most profitable way to manipulate this correlation between gambling and video-game playing with its microtransaction system. And there’s absolutely no reason why it’s going to stop.


EA Sports is exploiting impressionable children with microtransactions and making millions of dollars doing it.

Exactly How Bad is Gambling Addiction Among Video Game Players?

A recent study of 1,229 adolescents and young adults found that “both social and problem gamblers had higher rates of video game playing than did non-gamblers, and addicted gamers had higher rates of gambling than did social and non-gamers”.

(McBride & Derevensky, 2016)

However, the long-running debate for the connection between gambling addiction and playing video games centres around one main point of contention:

Is it a correlation or causation?

Do people who play video games more gamble more, or is it just that people who gamble a lot are more inclined to play video games?

Thanks to microtransactions in video games, this has become a moot point. Video games are embracing gambling as much as your local Leagues Club or lawn bowls joint. And with Madden, gambling and video games are becoming the same thing.

Microtransactions didn’t start out as gambling. Originally, you would pay money and you knew exactly what you were getting. Five dollars would unlock a new character or armour or player.


In modern-day Madden, you can spend upwards of $200 on card packs and not receive a single damn player of use. Or you could spend $50 and receive three players that will help you win against that pesky 12-year-old in Russia. The one who keeps tossing deep balls to a 99-overall Randy Moss he only got from spending $400 on packs. It’s all the luck of the draw. Just like gambling. Except you can’t count cards or research horses. You’re at the mercy of the game. You’re at the mercy of EA. And I for one wouldn’t give my credit card to EA for a quick trip to the corner store for beer and cigarettes.

Yet thousands of players around the world are doing just that. They’re freely handing over their credit cards in the hopes of receiving a new player so they can play the game better. This is not the traditional culture of great players winning by skill. Instead, any kid with Mommy and Daddy's credit card can buy themselves an unbeatable team through countless gambles on player packs. This is what EA wants and this is exactly what it has achieved with Madden.


It reminds me of the Pokemon trading cards days. When I was in Grade 4, I would save up weeks of allowance, go to the newsagent and purchase a pack of Pokemon cards. Imagine my elation when I received a holographic card. Imagine my melancholy upon getting nothing better than another fucking Jigglypuff. (I never got a holographic card.)

That’s honestly a pretty dastardly business strategy. Yet somehow EA Sports has managed to make it even more bloodthirsty.


Video games like Madden resemble slot machines more than actual video games today.

The problem with this method on Madden is that:

1. It’s instantaneous. Kids can sit on their sofa and, once the credit card details are in the system, purchase pack after pack after pack.

2. There’s no value in the cards. You can’t sell virtual cards (players) 30 or 40 years down the line on eBay. You can’t even use them the next year if you want to play the latest version of Madden. They’re useless.

How much do these loot boxes or card packs impact our lives outside of video games?

In 2019, it was found that “loot box purchasers played video games and gambled online more frequently, reported more extended gaming and online gambling sessions, and endorsed higher levels of problem video gaming and problem gambling severity as well as greater mental distress relative to those who did not buy loot boxes.”

The same report discovered that “loot box purchasing was directly related to problem video gaming and problem gambling severity as well as indirectly through increased video gaming/online gambling engagement, which in turn is related to elevated psychological distress.”

(Li et al., 2019)

It is disturbing to think that this microtransaction system is having such a psychological effect on not only adult players, but players as young as 10 or even eight. Disturbing still to know that game companies like EA are manipulating it to make more money, disregarding any long-term effects it may be having on its users.


Loot box purchasing has been directly related to unhealthy gaming and gambling, which lead to psychological distress.

How Gambling in Video Games Can Affect Children


Most children are kept quite distant from traditional gambling activities, such as horse racing and casinos. However, when it comes to video games they are far more susceptible.

In 2009, around 88 percent of Americans aged between eight and 18 played video games between three to four times a week. The average playing time per week was around nine hours for girls and just over 16 hours for boys.

(Gentile, 2009)

That’s a helluva lot of time to be prompted to gamble on player packs and loot boxes each week. And what happens when there’s no access to money? What happens when a child feels an overriding need to buy yet another pack when they have no money to do so?

Way back in 1987, 100 trainees in a youth custody centre were surveyed about their gambling and video-game playing behaviours. It was found that 60 percent of those playing video games had “committed an offence to finance their habit”. And this was before the time of microtransactions.

The study also found that “criminal” video game players were younger, started playing earlier and spent all their money on playing more often than “non-criminal” players. They also reported “more relationship problems”.

(Huff & Collinson, 1987)

Jesus H Christ. That was back in the 80s, when microtransactions weren’t around and games were relatively simple and reasonably priced. Now we have EA Sports encouraging children to spend hundreds on player packs just to play a game the way they’ve been told they should.

Where the hell do we go from here?



Boycott Madden for the Right Reasons

I think back to my days playing Madden as a teenager. Often it was with friends, but at other times it was in the late hours of night with the sound muted trying not to wake my parents with the occasional “woop!” or “fuck!”.

I wonder what it would’ve been like, back then, if game modes with microtransactions had dominated Madden. Maybe I wouldn’t have cared. Maybe I still would’ve persevered with the crappy Franchise mode. Or maybe I would’ve given in to the constant pressure to gamble on building a better team in MUT. Maybe I would’ve spent my savings on player packs in the hopes of being able to have Brett Favre quarterbacking my Ultimate Team.

He was quite literally my hero back then (this, a time before the sexting and retired-unretired scandals – hell, no hero is perfect) and I would’ve given anything to be the one controlling the gunslinger.

The state of Madden and its microtransaction system now makes me appreciate even more that I was able to grow up in its better, moral years. The rare times that I play Madden today it’s not a nostalgic experience. It’s akin to meeting an old friend who, after years of drug abuse, is barely recognisable. Only this old friend has now started stealing from children to fund their drug addiction.

So if you’re going to #boycottmadden21, don’t do so because the gameplay sucks or it doesn’t have the features you want in your wet-dream American Football game. Do it because EA Games is making a profit by corrupting players, young and old, with a system that takes everything and gives nothing but bad habits and mental distress in return.

The Madden Curse no longer relates to its cover players. It’s reserved solely or those who remain EA Sport’s subservient buyers.



References

Gentile, D. (2009). Pathological video-game use among youth ages 8 to 18.

Psychological Science, 20 (5), 594-602.

Gupta, R., & Derevensky J. L. (1996). The relationship between gambling and video-game playing behavior in children and adolescents. Journal of Gambling Studies, 12, 375-394.

Huff, G., & Collinson F. (1987). YOUNG OFFENDERS, GAMBLING AND VIDEO GAME PLAYING: A Survey in a Youth Custody Centre. The British Journal of Criminology, 27 (4), 401-410.

Jenny, S. E., & Schary, D. (2014). Exploring the effectiveness of learning American football through playing the video game “Madden NFL”. International Journal of Technology in Teaching and Learning, 10 (1), 72.

King, D. L. (2012). Illusory Control, Gambling, and Video Gaming: An Investigation of Regular Gamblers and Video Game Players. Journal of Gambling Studies, 28, 421-435.

Li, W., Mills, D., & Nower, L. (2019). The relationship of loot box purchases to problem video gaming and problem gambling. Addictive Behaviours. Retrieved from https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0306460319301091

McBride, J, & Derevensky J. L. (2016). Gambling and Video Game Playing Among Youth. Journal of Gambling Issues. Retrieved from http://jgi.camh.net/jgi/index.php/jgi/article/view/3962/4190

Rideout, V., Roberts, D., & Foehr U. (2005). Generation M: Media in the lives of 8-18 year olds. Kaiser Family Foundation Study. Retrieved from http://kaiserfamilyfoundation.files.wordpress.com/2013/01/generation-m-media-in-the-lives-of-8-18-year-olds-report.pdf

Riley, D. (2007). Amount of time kids spend playing video games is on the rise.

The NPD Group. Retrieved from www.npd.com/press/releases/press_071016a.html

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© 2023 by Ben Stower