Loot boxes? EA vice president prefers you call them surprise mechanics

A senior Electronic Arts executive said that loot boxes are “surprise mechanics” like Kinder Eggs and that they are “quite ethical and quite fun.”

Speaking before the U.K. Parliament’s Digital, Culture, Media, and Sport Committee, EA vice president of legal and government affairs Kerry Hopkins wouldn’t even use the term “loot box” when asked if they’re ethical.

“We don’t call them loot boxes,” she said, adding that they look at the feature as “surprise mechanics.”

“This is something people enjoy. They enjoy surprises. And so it’s something that’s been part of toys for years, whether it’s Kinder Eggs or Hatchimals or LOL Surprise. We do think that the way that we have implemented these kinds of mechanics … is actually quite ethical and quite fun — enjoyable to people.”

Loot boxes and other pay-to-win microtransactions are something of a sore point for gamers. For most games with loot boxes, you pay real money to buy a “box” that contains randomized items. Sometimes that’s purely cosmetic, like in Overwatch, but in other games, these boxes give players a significant advantage. Some of these games are free to play, which regulators fear could hook in children or other vulnerable people with a taste of gameplay before tempting them with pay-to-win loot boxes.

British regulators are looking into whether loot boxes are a form of gambling and could join their Dutch and Belgian counterparts in establishing stricter rules or even banning loot boxes. U.S. Senator Josh Hawley (R-MO) introduced a bill in May that would ban the practice in games aimed at or played by kids under the age of 18. The  Entertainment Software Association, a major video game lobbying group, quickly came out against the bill.

For EA, loot boxes are big business. The company said in 2017 that Ultimate Team Mode in its FIFA series, which allows you to buy better players or packs of random players, generates about $800 million a year in revenue. It makes sense that the company would want to protect such a big cash cow.

“We do agree with the U.K. gambling commission, the Australian gambling commission, and many other gambling commissions that they aren’t gambling, and we also disagree that there’s evidence that shows it leads to gambling,” Hopkins said. “Instead we think it’s like many other products that people enjoy in a healthy way, and like the element of surprise.”

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