For a long time now, publishers have walked a tightrope when it comes to games and gambling mechanics, but now, with a new report from the UK Parliament condemning loot boxes in videogames, have they finally lost their footing?
Games such as Overwatch, Fortnite and Apex Legends have, for a long time now, employed the tactic of loot boxes, a blind open-and-see mechanic for receiving skins, cosmetics and other items in games. Now in theory, this doesn’t sound too egregious, but when you throw in the possibility of purchasing these mystery boxes with real money, the water starts to get a bit more murky and insidious.
The mechanic is often labelled as dangerous and damaging, especially to those with gambling addictions, addictive personalities or even children (considering these mechanics also occur in games rated for people 3 years old and up, such as Fifa), however, games publishers such as Electronic Arts have hit back in the past, stating that the device is only there to provide excitement and a sense of wonder. Kerry Hopkins, people will remember, when before UK Parliament (a full video, uploaded by Youtube channel, Grimreaper Alva can be found here), infamously stated that she believed the device, which she deemed ‘surprise mechanics’, were actually utilised in a way that make them ‘quite ethical and quite fun’.
That being said, it’s also important to remember the stake that publishers such as EA have in the device, CFO Blake Jorgenson, for example, told investors that the mechanics behind the Ultimate Team portion of regular Fifa games equates to around ‘half the $1.3 billion the company makes from extra digital content’. With that in mind, it’s easy to see why publishers would rush to defend the choice.
The choice follows in the same footsteps as those of Belgium and the Netherlands, who banned the mechanic earlier in 2018, allowing us to speculate as to whether other countries, especially in Europe, will now feel the pressure to do the same.
With all of the negative stories around loot boxes and loot crates now common knowledge to the public, having been published in articles such as this one for UK newspaper, The Guardian. The article even goes as far as to mention the ways in which the Parliamentary committee ‘struggled’ to get clear information from games companies on the subject.
So now the pressure is on to create restrictions to protect children from the mechanic, but, as seen with EA’s most recent response to the decision they provided in a statement for GamesIndustry.biz they’re not happy.
“While we don’t agree with all of the conclusions and recommendations in the report, we do take our responsibilities to players of all ages very seriously.”EA in a statement for http://www.GamesIndustry.Biz
With so much mounting pressure from such high places, how we’re going to see publishers respond is still a mystery, but one thing is for sure, things are going to be changing for the likes of Fifa and Fortnite.