This is Niche Culture. In this column, we regularly cover anime, geek culture, and things related to video games. Please leave feedback and let us know if there’s something you want us to cover!
Representatives from EA and Epic Games have recently spoken with the UK Parliament’s Digital, Culture, Media, and Sport Committee regarding lootboxes.
The ongoing controversy over lootboxes has resulted the UK government calling upon Kerry Hopkins (EA’s VP of legal and government affairs), Matthew Weissinger (EA’s director of marketing), and Canon Pence (Epic Game’s general counsel) to give oral evidence on June 19th 2019. You can view the entire meeting here, or the segment we are talking about today here.
During their discussion of “Immersive and addictive technologies,” loot boxes were mentioned. When all the panel were asked if they considered lootboxes ethical, Hopkins compared them to a form of “surprise” entertainment and therefore ethical:
“Well first we don’t call them loot boxes [the speaker then spoke over her and asked “Whatever term you wish to apply to them, do you consider them ethical?”] So- what we would- as surprise mechanics- But I think its important to look at this.
So, if you go to a- I don’t know what your version of Target is- but a store that sells a lot of toys, and you do a search for surprise toys, what you’ll find is that this is something people enjoy. They enjoy surprises. And so it’s something that’s been part of toys for years, whether its Kinder Eggs, or Hatchimals, or LOL Surprise.
We do think the way that we have implemented these kind of mechanics- and FIFA of course is our big one, FIFA Ultimate Team and our Packs- is actually quite ethical and quite fun, enjoyable to people.
We 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 very healthy way, and like the element of surprise.”
The speaker than asked to make things clear. “Lootboxes are surprise mechanics, and you have no ethical qualms, whatsoever with?” Hopkins showed clear discomfort but replied:
“I think you are recharacterizing my language- what I said is I think the way we’ve implemented our FIFA Ultimate Team Packs is ethical.”
On the subject of other games and if she felt “equally comfortable and relaxed” Hopkins stated:
“For all of the games we have on the market that have a randomized content mechanic as a prize mechanic- a loot box- I have no qualms that they are implemented in an unethical way.”
The speaker then inquired why nations such as Belgium and the Netherlands considered lootboxes as a form of gambling. Hopkins then explained how the differences in law were the main reason- along with emphasizing that it was those nations gambling regulators and not their nation’s courts:
“Belgium and Netherlands have taken a different view from every other gambling commission in the world.” […] “They have different gambling laws, and in fact I’m not sure how familiar you are with their views, but their views as to why these mechanics violate their laws are different. They’re not the same view. They both have a very different interpretation and they have a different law. And they decided- the regulator not the courts- decided that under their laws, their local law, that these mechanics under certain circumstances violate the law.”
When asked if the digital items within lootboxes could be “cashed out” for real world value, Hopkins seemed to be a little frustrated but went into more depth about the decisions made by Belgium and Dutch gambling regulators instead:
“Would you like me to get into the interpretation? Not that was not, their view was that any lootbox mechanic, any randomized content mechanic- if you paid for it, automatically violated the law. It doesn’t matter if there was external game sale.
The Dutch take a very different view, and they say both paid and unpaid lootbox mechanics violate the law- but only if they can be traded. So there what you’re seeing is regulators making an interpretation, under the local law, that’s quite different than what every other regulator in the European Federation of gambling regulators have decided.”
We will continue to comb through the video for other interesting replies during the panel. What do you think? Sound off in the comments below!
In other news, a US Senator has proposed a ban on all lootboxes within the US.