Like many young men, my 14 year old son loves FIFA – since the introduction of FIFA Ultimate Team in FIFA 10, sales of the videogame have rocketed, turning it in a phenomenon along the lines of Star Wars or Pokemon. In case you are just hearing about this for the first time, I will try to explain how it works:

Boys play a virtual football game called FIFA 2016 where they can pit their teams against each other online against anyone in the world. But they’re not playing with Manchester United or Liverpool – they’re creating their own teams, buying players from the games creator EA (cleverly wrapped up in a ‘card pack’ – just like the trading card games you’ve seen selling like hotcakes) or even buying players directly from each other in an auction.

To get the best players you have to buy a pack of players for accumulated in-game currency or with real money. 4 players for 7500 in-game coins or £1.99. The catch? You don’t know which players you’re going to get. When you unwrap the players you could get complete junk or amazing players. Each player is assigned stats that correlate with their worth on the pitch, as well as having a general market value. It’s the pseudo-gambling hook that is keeping EA reaping in revenue all season long, not just the first time you buy the game.

Then you can assign those players to your team, or you can sell them back on again for more or less money than you’ve put in. Of course, EA charge a tax of 5% of their own coins to sell a player.

Since I’m a tight Scrooge-father and I won’t pay for my son to buy the players he needs to make a competitive top quality team, he has come up with an angle of how to get better players by buying and selling them on a ‘football stock market’.  He literally uses a prediction algorithm provided by FUTBIN.com. How does it work?

FUTBIN.COM provides predictions as to which players will do better in the game and will be worth more money. My son will buy them cheap and sell them high using their predictions.

You could get a top quality player that would be worth millions of coins in the games and you could sell him and buy 4 other players with the money you make. Play the market right and your team could end up in the top tier.

I asked him about how does the FUTBIN.com website make their money for providing their service?

He said he thought it was from advertising. He’s probably right. But, my mind drawn between the obvious parallels between FIFA’s virtual system and the real life stock system, I thought perhaps they could use their predictive ability and purchase players before releasing a prediction of that player’s value rising. Of course, then his value goes up automatically as more people rush to do their own wheeling and dealing.

It’s the videogame equivalent of the Warren Buffet bandwagon, the investor who can cause markets to rise and fall based on mere rumours of his involvement.

This is the underworld of the videogames that are played by the new generation – whether they are playing FIFA, Counterstrike or simply tapping away at an innocuous colourful game on their mobile, it’s likely that game is being backed up by an economic ecosystem that rivals the real life equivalent.

It’s an ecosystem that seems readily accessible to my children yet bizarrely obscure to my aged eyes – it runs on a set of rules that seem completely understandable to my son, but only generates questions for me. Can you get the same player twice? (Yes, but you can’t have them in the same squad so you have to immediately sell the duplicate player)  Can you play another team that has the same player you have?  (Yes, two Cristiano Ronaldo’s are entirely possible and you must not say “One is quite enough, thank you.”)

In this virtual world, EA is the creator, bank and judge of all it surveys.

If the player does well in real life, or if he breaks his leg, the price of the player on the auction sites will vary accordingly. What’s weird about that is it doesn’t mean that the the player virtually is a worse player! Rather, in-form players will get ‘black’ versions of their card that are far more rare, cost more and you guessed it, cause thousands of gamers to spend money on packs for a chance to get the better version of the player.

One wonders if FIFA players are the new status symbol for this generation. The excitement over getting special blue Team of the Year cards or orange Man of the Match cards has resulted in a subculture being documented on YouTube. FIFA community icons film themselves opening packs upon packs, their exaggerated reactions spiking views into the millions. The most famous of these, a YouTuber called KSI, has over 10 million subscribers.

For the uninitiated, this can all seem utterly bizarre. But like any subculture, the niches it creates are what’s enticing. The entertainers on YouTube. The pump and dump’em stock investors like my son. The gamblers – the pack openers. The kings, EA, who have managed to ‘gamify’ football in it’s entirety, from the glamour to the gambling, the entertainers and the chasers.