EA calls its loot boxes ‘surprise mechanics,’ says they’re used ethically

EA calls its loot boxes ‘surprise mechanics,’ says they’re used ethically
Graphic: James Bareham/Polygon

A senior executive at Electronic Arts told the United Kingdom’s Parliament that the company prefers to call loot boxes “surprise mechanics,” and argued that their use in EA games is “quite ethical and quite fun [and] enjoyable to people.”

Appearing before a House of Commons committee on Wednesday, Kerry Hopkins, vice president of legal and government affairs at EA, responded to a member of Parliament who had asked if the publisher had any “ethical qualms” about loot boxes. Their use in 2017’s Star Wars Battlefront 2 kicked off a huge controversy that drew scrutiny from several governments, including those in the United States and Europe. Loot boxes, in the form of Ultimate Team packs, are also a major source of revenue for EA’s FIFA franchise.

Hopkins compared loot boxes to other products: Kinder Eggs, a chocolate treat with a toy in its center, and Hatchimals, a blind box-style toy hidden inside an egg. “People like surprises,” she said. But the comparison to Kinder Eggs was quite ironic, given that the chocolate eggs were banned in the U.S. until recently, over concerns the prizes were a choking hazard.

“We do think the way we’ve implemented these kinds of mechanics is quite ethical and quite fun,” she said. “They aren’t gambling and we disagree that there’s evidence that shows they lead to gambling.”

The British Parliament is investigating loot boxes over concern that they constitute gambling and the potential harm that could cause to children, citing anecdotal evidence and research that call loot boxes addictive.

Loot boxes, microtransactions, and pay-to-win mechanisms have come under mainstream scrutiny over the past year. A bill to regulate them died in Hawaii’s legislature, but a Republican senator recently introduced a bill, with bipartisan support, that would prohibit loot boxes in games marketed to or played by children. Loot boxes have been likened to gambling, a comparison that Electronic Arts and the Entertainment Software Association dispute.

In 2017, New Zealand regulators reached the same conclusion. However, in 2018, countries like Belgium and the Netherlands found that the loot boxes in games like Counter-Strike: Global OffensiveDota 2, and Overwatch were a form of gambling; developers Blizzard and Valve modified their games to comply with regional regulations. Other nations, such as South Korea, China, and Japan have started regulating loot boxes, too.

EA’s statements may raise eyebrows, but they’re unsurprising given the company’s history on this issue. EA pushed back hard on the Belgian Gaming Commission when it ruled that loot boxes constituted unregulated gambling, but still decided to stop selling FIFA Points, a microtransaction in its FIFA soccer series, in that country.

Parliamentary members on the committee have not announced any plans to regulate loot-boxes in the U.K. as of now.