Culture

Nov 15, 2012

Gambling on a game: FIFA 13 and Virgin Gaming

Gambling and videogames should be a hot topic in Australia. So why is no-one concerned that EA's FIFA 13 works with Virgin Gaming to allow players to bet on matches?

Every so often an advert pops up in the upper left corner of FIFA 13. “Win money playing in the EA Sports Arena Online Game Mode,” it reads. The EA Sports Arena is a few menus deep within FIFA 13, but it’s visible enough. Through it, players can connect with a service called Virgin Gaming, which is aligned with Richard Branson’s Virgin mega-brand. Virgin Gaming enables you to bet real money on multiplayer games of FIFA 13, Madden 13 and a number of others. Thus, it allows you to win real money. It also allows you to lose real money. Virgin Gaming is a service that exists within a strange middle ground of gambling and classification regulation in Australia. Few can or will take responsibility for how it interfaces with games like FIFA 13. EA Sports argues that such gambling is purely a third party service. The Classification Board has concluded, after being approached by Crikey, that it has “a very mild viewing impact and can be accommodated within the G (General) classification.” Further, videogames are themselves outside the boundaries of federal gambling law, and thus Virgin Gaming does not fall within the jurisdiction of a regulatory body like ACMA. And so, every so often, an advert pops up in FIFA 13 that calls on players to gamble. And gambling is what players all over the world have been doing.

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“This is the most tense I’ve felt playing this game in five years.” Jeremy is a dedicated FIFA player (he is also my girlfriend’s brother, and we are good friends). I first heard about Virgin Gaming at lunch with him a few weeks ago, where he mentioned a few of the changes made to his beloved soccer game this year. I had not heard of players being able to bet on console games before. I was surprised. Curious, I went to his house to watch him play a game. It took less time than I thought to organise—with a computer on his lap and a controller in his hand, Jeremy quickly signed up through the Virgin Gaming website (as directed by his copy of FIFA 13) and linked his Xbox 360 gamertag with the service. He added twenty dollars through a PayPal account, ticked a button to agree that yes, he was over eighteen years old, and was in an open skill level lobby in minutes. “No more friendlies,” read the tag line. The lobby was disorganised and a little anarchic, with players hustling for games in text chat. “Any low skill player invite me for 3.00 game now!!!” posted one user. “Anyone wanna play for 20?” wrote another. Jeremy settled on a player from the Netherlands, a player whose Virgin Gaming profile showed a win-loss history of 25-12. The bet was four dollars. The match would be the regulation six-minute FIFA halves. The winner’s jackpot, minus Virgin Gaming’s twelve per cent fee, was to be seven dollars and four cents. Blip—the Xbox notified Jeremy that he had a EA Sports Arena match scheduled. The Dutch player picked Brazil. Jeremy picked Chelsea. The game was electric. Both players were cautious, happy to defend rather than push for opportunity, but the atmosphere was tense. At half-time, the score was nil all, with few chances made by either player. There was more than pride on the line. In the forty-eighth minute the Dutch player scored, but Jeremy won a penalty shortly after, leveling the match. It was now that Jeremy noted that he’d never felt so tense in a game of FIFA in years. If it was a tie the whole thing would have to be replayed. Perhaps he would not be so lucky again with a penalty, and real money would have been lost. Suddenly, Jeremy had the ball with his striker sprinting towards the Dutch player’s keeper. The last line of defense. “Only the keeper to beat!” screamed the commentary in a rare moment of clarity. The ball entered the back of the net from well outside the box. The game was over. Jeremy had won. “Aww, you took his money!” said Jeremy’s girlfriend, watching distractedly. Seven dollars and four cents was automatically credited to the Virgin Gaming account, bringing his total to twenty three dollars and four cents. Due to Virgin Gaming’s three dollar fee for withdrawing funds, Jeremy noted dryly, if he cashed out now the whole exercise would have been worth four cents of profit. There was a momentary high from the win, but we quickly moved on to the next match, which had a higher bet and less tension. The opposite player, this time from Italy, played an arrogant game, and Jeremy lost his connection halfway through. Virgin Gaming automatically ruled that a rematch was required, which the Italian won three nil in uninspiring style. The loss was not so much crushing as mundane. The edge of gambling quickly worn thin. A few days later I received a text message from Jeremy. He’d played some more FIFA games through Virgin Gaming, betting once again. “I lost and got really angry and hated myself and the game. It’s fucking toxic.”

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13 comments

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13 thoughts on “Gambling on a game: FIFA 13 and Virgin Gaming

  1. Eivind Meyer

    I’m pretty mediocre at FIFA, but won 100 dollars on virgingaming by using a formula that determines what opponents to play. I made an adfree fan-website with the calculator. The link is playsafebets.com.
    Would love feedback 🙂

  2. Andy Bouwman

    interesting article, and an issue that has crossed my mind more than a few times whilst playing. to the casual observer, this looks like it could become an all-consuming practice. in my experience however, adding a stake to the game actually kills the experience. players are afraid to take risks or express themselves, and so games are generally cagey affairs with the threat of losing more prominent than the excitement of winning.

    another aspect not touched on in your article is the presence of LAG. this game lags like a mofo online, and even if you and your opponent have boss internet connections the distance between you (if you are playing across international borders in particular) nullifies the ‘skill’ involved. tight, cautious contests are usually settled by a long ball played through a patch of lag, in which you or your opponent manages to break one-on-one with the keeper. this is incredibly frustrating, and when you are aware that this can happen at any time the thought of putting money on a game becomes infinitely less appealing.

    the actual layout reminds me a lot of those online poker rooms, and so i don’t see why it is above regulation. as i think someone may have commented, it requires a significant investment of time for a player to amass any sort of winnings, and i can’t imagine that anyone other than Virgin is making a profit from this.

  3. Daniel Golding

    Thank you for all the very interesting and kind comments here. Very much appreciated.

    Bondles: Great point, that’s something I didn’t catch.

    Though it’s possible that would actually make it less, to my mind. The way Virgin Gaming deals out ‘winnings’ includes your own initial loss. So, say you bet $4. The other player bets $4. You immediately lose that $4 to the house, and there is a $7.04 ‘jackpot’ (minus the 12% take) up for the taking.

    So in the end you win $7.04 by Virgin Gaming’s logic, but your opponent has only lost $4.

    So that $23 million figure could actually be simply the amount gambled in total, minus Virgin Gaming’s 12%. Which would make the total amount lost a bit more than half that, at something like $13 million.

  4. John Bennetts

    “Gambling” has become a dirty word.

    Poker machines are also represented as gaming machines and are located within games rooms of clubs and pubs right across Australia. Up to a point, I agree that it could, at a stretch, pass as a game. A person who occasionally plays a poker machine with 20 dollars while simultaneously downing a beer and/or having a chat with a friend may well be playing a game.

    Is it still a game when, after 5 hours and a week’s pay, the last available credit is swallowed by the machine and the punter is reluctantly left with nothing other to do than to go home with empty pockets? I think not. It is gambling.

    The same analysis applies to on-line games. When the losses mount and it is no longer a game, it is gambling.

  5. Bondles

    That also means twenty-three million dollars has been lost by players.

    Actually, with Virgin’s absurd 12% rake, that’s nearly $26 million lost by players – the balance going to Virgin.

  6. Rourke

    Daniel’s friend Jeremy describes the downside acutely: when you have real money invested in the outcome, losing and winning feel utterly different and affect your mood greatly. I notice the same thing with online backgammon – I can’t play for money any more because it makes me see bad luck as a conspiracy, and there is luck in all of these games as they do not repeat exactly each time. The 12% rake is absolutely horrendous!

  7. jeremy jose

    This piece is pretty silly scaremongering and I’m not even sure that what is described is gambling. As I understand, you are paying a fee to enter into a competitive tournament for which there is a cash payout. Your returns will be based, to some extent, by random factors in the game but are essentially based on your skill at the game versus your opponent. And your overall ability to lose money is very severely constrained by the amount of time each game takes to make.

    I’ll note that this is not a new thing at all. The grandaddy of competitive collectible card games, Magic the Gathering, has an online client that’s been running for over a decade with real money entry fees and prize payouts that can, without too much difficulty, be converted back into money. The house’s take varies between 25% and (notionally) nothing depending on the particular event, and there’s a range of options from large multi-person multi-round tournaments that can have hundreds of players with very large prize pools to heads up single game “queues” with an entry fee of (effectively) $2 and a payout to the winner of $4 (retail, actual value is more like $3.5).

  8. Josh Thorburn

    Really interesting read.

    I’m a massive FIFA player and so are a lot of my friends but I had no idea you could bet on games. While this definitely isn’t ideal I don’t believe it is a major problem… yet.

  9. Gizmaluke

    I’m not convinced that this is a problem if the betting is confined to your own games. It sounds like it’s limited in this way.

    The payout is limited to 12% less than 1:1. Your chances are limited to your own skill. The stakes are limited to your ability to find someone willing to play at that price. You are only able to bet on one game at a time.

    I just can’t see anyone – even a seriously addicted gambler – losing a great deal of money on this. There is little motivation to participate in a game where you have a low chance of winning because it has no effect on the payout.

    Due to the limitation of one game per 12 minutes, any players wanting to hustle by working with someone else to drop their win ratio would find their time better spent elsewhere. If the stakes of previous games are tracked along with win-loss, hustling would only be possible with the newest and most foolish of players.

    The only potential problem I can see is in this being an introduction to gambling for those that can’t make the distinction between a game of skill and a game of luck and head off into luck territory. If this game ends up being someone’s poison, they’re lucky.

  10. Geoffrey Edwards

    I hadn’t purchased the current version of the FIFA series, but I have seen the EA Sports Arena advertsised previously. I had assumed that the “winning cash” aspect was some kind of loyalty/giveaway promotion. Obviously not.

    To a degree it saddens me, as a gamer, that this is a reality. But as an occasional observer of reality it seems a logical progression of the medium.

    Being aware of the Starcraft phenomenon in Asia, I googled “betting on stracraft.” Certainly an eye opener.

    Read here if you wan’t to learn a little about a major match fixing scandal involving professional gamers and illegal gamblers.

    http://www.koreatimes.co.kr/www/news/tech/2010/04/134_64247.html

    There are a lot of interesting and troubling aspects here which will take me time to digest and I echo previous comments by saying thankyou for this story.

  11. Brendan Keogh

    Really great piece on a very perplexing situation, Dan. Thanks for putting in all the work to draw this out.

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