EA’s Sad Attempt to Rename and Rebrand Loot Boxes

You may remember US Senator Josh Hawley and his proposed bill to ban loot boxes, microtransactions, and pay-to-win mechanics from games. In a recent oral evidence session with the UK Parliament’s Digital, Culture, Media, and Sport Committee, EA defended its use of in-game purchases and loot boxes.

During the session, EA’s VP of legal and government affairs, Kerry Hopkins, defended the company. EA says that these are just “randomized purchases” and not loot boxes. Hopkins argues that these “surprise mechanics” are harmless and are no different from toys. Furthermore, EA’s Kerry Hopkins compares in-game purchases to surprise toys which have been around “for years, whether it’s Kinder Eggs, or Hatchimals, or LOL Surprise.”

This comes at a time when just a few months back, US Senator Josh Hawley (R-MO) announced “The Protecting Children from Abusive Games Act”.

It is Hawley’s belief that loot boxes, pay-to-win mechanics and microtransactions in games exploit children who play them. They aren’t different from real life casinos. Bringing that kind of addiction to children at a time when their minds are still developing is immoral and unethical.

Hawley argues that social media and the “pay to win” trend set by various modern games have a negative effect on children who are playing said games. This is the primary reason why US Senator Josh Hawley proposed a ban on all games which feature loot boxes, pay-to-win mechanics and microtransactions.

During the oral evidence session, Scottish National Party MP, Brendan O’Hara asked a number of questions about EA’s morality of adding loot box mechanics to games that function quite similar to real life gambling. Hopkins replied by saying:

“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.”

He added:

“We [EA] do agree with the UK 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. Instead, we think it’s like many other products that people enjoy in a healthy way, and like the element of surprise.”

Of course, a number of countries have reviewed games like FIFA, LoL, Dota, and more regarding their loot box and microtransactional mechanics and determined that they are not gambling. These countries include but are not limited to Ireland, Germany, Sweden, Denmark, Australia, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom.

Interestingly, US Senator Josh Hawley specifically mentioned EA and its use of loot boxes in games in an interview and said,

“And FIFA would indeed be covered by this legislation, to be clear. They’ve [EA] certainly expressed their, shall we say, concern over this legislation. But I think that’s probably a good indication that we’re getting somewhere.”

Yes, granted Kinder Eggs, Hatchimals, and LOL Surprise have existed and children have consumed them for decades. But video games are different. The video game industry is associated with entertainment. So when something that is strictly supposed to be entertainment adds microtransactions and loot boxes, it becomes something that’s not entertainment anymore.

More and more games are doing this these days. They tout their games as being “free to play” but then introduce microtransactions after a few levels. This is especially common in mobile games. Furthermore, games will also present the player with two choices: either grind for hours or just pay the company to progress in the level. It’s quite similar to either earn the money the hard way, or go to the casino and gamble.

In any case, lawmakers like US Senator Josh Hawley remain determined on banning loot boxes and microtransactions from games. While game developers like EA are still defending their games like FIFA, saying they are not gambling but “fun”.

You can view the oral evidence session with the UK Parliament’s Digital, Culture, Media, and Sport Committee here.