Electronic Arts, when called upon to defend its practice of including loot boxes in its games, chose to defend its money-maker in the most cringeworthy way possible, by comparing them to Kinder eggs.
The UK Parliament’s Digital, Culture, Media, and Sport Committee yesterday heard evidence from EA and Epic Games representatives about various game-related issues, the legality and propriety of loot boxes and other microtransactions in games chief among them. For the most part, the gaming reps danced around the issue as tactfully as possible, but when the EA camp was asked about loot boxes, they responded by saying they refer to loot boxes as “surprise mechanics” and comparing opening one to cracking a Kinder egg or a Hatchimal.
“Surprise mechanics,” huh? Wow, that’s… more than a little tortured. You paid $5 and got several pieces of useless loot you’re never going to use — surprise!
Kerry Hopkins, EA‘s VP of legal affairs, told the committee: “We do think the way that we have implemented these kinds of mechanics … is actually quite ethical and quite fun, quite enjoyable to people.”
The question of whether or not loot boxes are “ethical” is a thorny one — Fortnite reps danced around the issue of whether they adequately ensure children aren’t spending money willy-nilly in games. Despite how it might seem from their cagey demeanor, the game companies aren’t automatically the bad guys in this scenario.
That said, this little tete-a-tete does highlight a continuing problem with this discourse: government officials keep framing this as an issue of lootboxes being a gateway drug for childhood gambling. There’s no evidence that’s the case — there’s more evidence to suggest it’s a gateway drug for adult gambling, but I suppose that’s not an issue that wins votes. A more pertinent question would be how ethical it is to divvy up pieces of content and lock them into a paid mechanic when a player has already paid for the game in question.
Besides, EA‘s recent activities with regards to its upcoming Star Wars title would seem to indicate it’s at least somewhat aware gamers don’t think of loot boxes as a giant pile of whimsy. It’s promised, publicly, that Jedi: Fallen Order — the tentpole game it’s releasing just in time for the holiday season — would have, “[no] microtransactions. No loot boxes. And no, we won’t be adding them.” Surely if it really believed loot boxes were harmless, entertaining “surprise mechanics,” and people loved them as much as EA’s rep implied, it’d happily include them.
If you want to see the whole palaver, you can watch it here.