It seems there is a plaguing trend in the gaming industry these days—the use of loot boxes, microtransactions, and pay-to-win scenarios to make games “as a service”. Although there are those who demand a loot box ban, there are also some developers who have seemingly defended their stance on it. EA’s CEO Andrew Wilson says it is “actually possible” for the company to pull off loot boxes, microtransactions, and live services in their games.
In a post E3 2019 interview with GameDaily, Electronic Arts CEO Andrew Wilson talked about the company’s stance on loot boxes and how it will impact their future strategy.
“Whether it’s direct purchase or this mystery box style that’s become commonly referred to as loot boxes we really think about four key vectors: Value, fairness, choice, and fun. We want to feel like we got a good deal,” said Wilson.
“We’ve got some live services businesses that are microtransaction fueled that have some of the highest sentiment and highest engagement in the industry. So, it’s actually possible to do this right.”
This comes at a time when lawmakers like US Senator Josh Hawley are trying to ban loot boxes, microtransactions, and pay-to-win mechanics from video games. Senator Hawley’s “The Protecting Children from Abusive Games Act”, if implemented, would ban loot boxes and hold game developers like EA accountable.
This is something Wilson also touched on during his interview. According to Wilson,
We [EA] are going to work harder on surfacing tools so that parents can actually feel more in control of the lives of their children. The reality is these tools exist inside of PlayStation, Xbox, and Origin, and other platforms today, they really do.
The interesting part of the “The Protecting Children from Abusive Games Act” is that it will be effective for all systems. Even though parental guidance tools exist on these platforms, they don’t exist in games that feature loot boxes, microtransactions, and pay-to-win mechanics. In fact, some games even encourage the use of said mechanics. Developers give players two choices, either take part in a long, frustrating grind to progress further, or just pay and instantly progress.
According to Wilson, EA’s future strategy is going to flush these parental guidance tools more in their games.
What we’re going to try to do is actually try to surface that even more in our games, in the language in our games, in the communication around our games, actually use our games to better surface some of those tools so that parents have better control over the digital lives of their children.
Another reason why all of this is interesting is that EA’s stance on the use of loot box mechanics has somewhat remained defensive. There is a huge argument that loot boxes in games are a form of gambling. When these games are marketed to children and they go on to play them, it can negatively impact them.
A child’s mind isn’t fully developed because they lack the experience an adult has due to their age. Adults can understand the consequences of gambling and even then there are many who are addicted to gambling. A child, on the other hand, cannot fully grasp the concept of gambling, let alone understand the negative addiction that can come with it.
So when developers and publishing companies like EA market loot box games to children, it can arguably have a negative impact on them. Just quite recently, EA argued against this, saying these loot box mechanics are fun.
According to EA’s VP of legal and government affairs, Kerry Hopkins,
We [EA] do think the way that we have implemented these kinds of mechanics – and FIFA, of course, is our big one, our FIFA Ultimate Team and our packs – is actually quite ethical and quite fun, quite enjoyable to people.
From what Andrew Wilson has said in the interview, it seems EA is trying to do everything they can to avoid all the damage they can that may potentially come with the loot box ban. They have argued time and time again that their use of loot boxes in their games are healthy. From a legal standpoint, it seems that EA is trying to take a flexible approach to the loot box ban. They are trying to be prepared for every eventuality. On one hand, they are arguing that there are no negative implications associated with the use of loot boxes. On the other hand, they are trying to add tools to give parents have better control over the digital lives of their children.
In any case, the bill to ban all loot boxes, microtransactions, and pay-to-win mechanics from games is a ticking time bomb that every game developer and publishing company should take seriously.