Electronic Arts is one of the companies that has the most to lose if loot boxes, an in-game purchasable good, are ever found to be a form of gambling. With the company already taking fire from Belgium and the Netherlands, where these devices have been banned, EA has the important task to convince UK Members of Parliament that loot boxes are in fact fun.
This was what Kerry Hopkins, EA’s vice president of legal and government affairs, sat down to talk about and discuss with the UK Parliament’s Digital Culture, Media, and Sport (DCMS) Committee. The Committee approached the issue in a professional and analytic manner, asking Ms. Hopkins whether the company considered loot boxes to be ethical.
Ms. Hopkins responded that there was a “surprise mechanic” to loot boxes which made them akin to children’s toys found in stores, and even a Kinder Egg.
“It’s something that’s been part of toys for years, whether it’s Kinder Eggs, or Hatchimals, or LOL Surprise. We do think the way that we have implemented these kinds of mechanics … is actually quite ethical and quite fun,” she told the Committee.
EA’s Battlefront II: Greed or More Surprise Mechanics?
EA is one of the companies to be the most vilified in the gaming industry. The company has been lambasted for prioritizing profit over gamers’ preferences on multiple occasions.
In 2017, the company released Battlefront II, a popular Star Wars inspired game which turned out to incur much of the fans’ wrath, because most of the powerful characters and features were locked behind loot boxes that cost hundreds of dollars.
Loot boxes have been also equated to poker, but in the sense that they “depended on chance”. This is true, loot boxes indeed depend on chance, however poker looks into probabilities that can lead to a realistic return on investment, which is a different thing altogether.
After Battlefront II, EA have been more quiet about loot boxes, but just as determined to push them through. The industry is big, not that its exact numbers have been pinpointed yet. Meanwhile the company is still arguing the case in favor of loot boxes.
Hopkins was all positive about how the company perceived and understood loot boxes: “We think it’s like many other products that people enjoy in a healthy way, and [customers] like the element of surprise.”
No, Loot Boxes Aren’t Poker
Put simply, loot boxes aren’t poker nor they can ever be. You can crunch the probabilities of obtaining a specific item, but this only goes to show that you have odds that are beyond the justifiable for each purchase.
Of course, a random loot box purchase can be treated as a Kinder Egg. Players who are not too invested claim the occasional loot box when they level in games like Heroes of the Storm (HotS) and open them up. The same applies to Hearthstone, another Blizzard game.
However, in the case of EA, loot boxes lead to one-sided gameplay. You could argue against Hearthstone as well, but with discipline and nominal investment, you can come up with a deck that still allows you to perform pretty decently.
Besides, poker players have been known to switch to Hearthstone and vice versa whereas no poker pro ever went on to compete in FIFA Ultimate Team professionally, for example.