British Members of Parliament are Unimpressed as Electronic Arts relabels Loot Boxes as ‘Surprise Mechanics’

Companies mentioned: Electronic Arts

This week British Members of Parliament posed questions to representatives from EA and Epic about some of the more dubious practices used in the exploitative monetisation of video games.

Shaun Campbell, UK country manager, and Kerry Hopkins, vice president, legal and government affairs were sent to rep Electronic Arts, while Matthew Weissinger, director of marketing, and Canon Pence, general counsel were sent to rep Epic Games.

Topics included play time, which representatives from both companies said they don’t track; duty of care to players, which, bafflingly, EA and Epic both seemed to argue is not their responsibility; the potential for addiction and the World Health Organisation’s recent high-profile classification of gaming disorder as a disease, which, frustratingly, EA and Epic failed to acknowledge; and loot boxes. At this point, Kerry Hopkins from Electronic Arts stepped in to say, “we don’t call them loot boxes – we call them surprise mechanics.”

Surprise mechanics! Like Kinder Eggs, Hopkins said. “People like surprises,” she continued. “We do think the way we’ve implemented these kinds of mechanics is quite ethical and quite fun. They aren’t gambling and we disagree that there’s evidence that shows they lead to gambling.”

Well, there sure is an element of surprise when it comes to loot boxes. Surprise! You spent $10,000 on them in FIFA, one Electronic Arts customer learned when he used the General Data Protection Regulation to find out from EA exactly how much money he had spent on their games.

The Committee were unimpressed by the squirming lacklustre responses they were being offered throughout the hearing. Both Electronic Arts and Epic claim to have not done any research into potentially harmful levels of engagement with their games. When questioned about the psychologically manipulative nature of gambling mechanics such as loot boxes, Electronics Arts representative Kerry Hopkins outright refused to admit it had any duty of care towards its customers.

“If I was a parent who was concerned about my child’s use of Fortnite, I think listening to your testimony would not give me any encouragement at all that this was an issue that you cared about.” said committee chair Damian Collins at one point.

There is a serious wave of scrutiny that’s washing over the video game industry – and there’s a danger that if authorities believe self-regulation isn’t working, actual regulation may be necessary.

Nobody wants that, of course. But if it comes, the industry only has itself to blame. Loot boxes, pay-to-win, depressing progression and a repeated unwillingness to even consider video games should be whispered in the same sentence as addiction, have all brought us to a potential tipping point where governments feel they have to step in. In some countries, governments have already stepped in.

If the showing from EA and Epic achieved anything, it shone a light on how unprepared the video game industry’s major players are to cope with this wave of scrutiny.

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