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Representatives from EA and Epic Games have recently spoken with the UK Parliament’s Digital, Culture, Media, and Sport Committee regarding lootboxes.
While EA representatives comments on lootboxes being “surprise mechanics” have been mocked online, an Epic Games representative has also made a curious statement that the company does not make money from people playing Fortnite. Upon reviewing the footage, it may not be as clear cut as you would expect.
The World Health Organization’s recent decision to officially recognize so-called “gaming disorder” as a legitimate issue has resulted the UK government calling upon representatives from the gaming industry to discuss “Immersive and addictive technologies.” The conversation often discussed play length and money spent on microtransactions such as lootboxes.
The witnesses during this discussion were 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.
The meeting began on a rather sour note, with the speaker addressing the Epic representatives about Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex’s comments on Fortnite. For those unfamiliar, Prince Harry made these comments while visiting a YMCA in West London:
“The game shouldn’t be allowed. Where is the benefit of having it in your household? It’s created to addict, an addiction to keep you in front of a computer for as long as possible. It’s so irresponsible. Parents have got their hands up – they don’t know what to do about it. It’s like waiting for the damage to be done.”
Prince Harry also made similarly condemning comments about social media, calling it worse than drugs and alcohol.
Pence responded that Epic was “quite taken aback,” and that the statements were false. He stated the company’s design philosophy was to develop “a long-term healthy and sustainable relationship with our audience.” He finally stated that Prince Harry’s statement suggested “that there is some sort of nefarious attempt to extract short-term profit is a real mischaracterization.”
The speaker than focused on press reports and news stories of the reportedly excessive amounts of spending money on the game, and time spent playing the game. While Wessinger stated the game had parental controls, the speaker still persisted. He mentioned a story where a six-year old allegedly used his uncle’s PlayStation account to buy £1600 worth of items in a single day. The speaker further claimed “these stories are not isolated” and if Epic offered refunds.
Wessinger replied that he was “not familiar with the report. The idea that you can spend £1600 in a day sounds- [pauses] I’m not sure that you can actually spend that in Fortnite.” The speaker then immediately stated he had “the report right here,” and that Epic could make a complaint to the UK Press Standards body if they felt the story was a lie.
Wessinger continued to elaborate, stating the amount did not sound correct. He also explained Epic had a player support system where players could enter a ticket in those situations. In addition, he stated Epic had “Protocols” in place for those scenarios.
The speaker still focused on the news story, asking why with allegedly 15 separate transactions a player would be allowed to rack up £1600 in a single day. Wessinger reminded the speaker about the aforementioned parental controls.
Despite stating that Epic provided “tools to make that decision for themselves”, the speaker again asked if it was responsible to let someone spend that much money in a day without challenge. Wessinger reminded the speaker about how short-term profit was not Epic’s goal.
The speaker yet again asked about refunds, as “there have been lots of complaints about it.” Weissinger repeated the information about the player support system. Pence interjected, explaining that Epic tended to be “generous” if they could prove it was a child.
The speaker asked how someone could prove that. When Pence explained that those requests were “regular” and on rare occasions escalated to higher support (with the “vast majority” being addressed “in the first instance”), the speaker repeated his question.
Wessinger explained that a significant number of transactions in a short time would be the information that they would look for. Pence also explained that the credit card and account names being different could be another sign. Even though in theory someone could fraudulently claim such a scenario, he stated Epic had the “intention to be generous in those cases.”
Continuing to focus on the subject, the speaker asked if there caps on how much a player could spend in a day, week or month. Wessinger explained that between the Battle Pass ($9.50), upgrading the battle pass, and buying all items available on a given day (around ten items from $2 to $20) would come to around $200. Wessinger also emphasized this would be an “extreme situation”.
The speaker than asked about the average monthly player revenue. Wessinger was reluctant to share that information, as it was “competitive information.” The speaker finally shifted gears to a new subject, how often would a regular player play per month. Wessinger explained that while the game was designed for “bite-sized increments” during free time, it was hard to characterize average play-length due to how broad the game’s appeal was.
Continuing with this line of inquiry, the speaker asked again and again. He asked that since the company must divide customers on parameters such as play-time and what they spend, they must know that information, Wessinger informed the speaker that they analyzed information on those who “left after some time” and those who frequently played (later elaborated as those who played within the last two weeks).
After discussing in-game events being used to encourage players to return to the game, the speaker asked what the play-time was for a frequent player. Despite Wessinger’s insistence that the company did not collect such information, the speaker kept pursuing that point from new angles.
Upon Wessinger stating it was difficult to define a “normal” play session length (as some players played every day, some only on weekends for longer, and some sessions for even greater periods of time), the speaker stated he did not believe Wessinger.
“This game makes money out of people who play it, and we know from other companies we spoke to this information is collected, so I find it hard to believe that you don’t, and it arouses suspicion.” He then stated that he didn’t need “corporate secrets”, despite the earlier claim that the information he wanted could be useful to Epic’s competitors. Pence then spoke up:
Pence: “I’m confident Epic as a company has the means to track and understand the finer points of player engagement. Neither of us are in the analytics department who would oversee that kind of effort. And I think more to the point here, at a very fine and specific point like that, we would consider it commercially sensitive. And as a side note, I would disagree with the statement that Epic makes money from people playing the games- the battle royal mode is free to play, so people playing it-”
Speaker: “You’re not a charity are you? You don’t make free to play games for the joy of it?”
Speaker: “Y’know you make money out of it. ‘Nothing wrong with being a commercial entity but lets not beat around the bush. You make money out of people playing the game, y’know? Challenge that if you like, but that is the reality of the situation.”
Pence: “Sure we wouldn’t have a viable business if no one played and spent money in it, but I wanted to be careful with language about the notion that playing- [the game generated profit]”
Speaker: “-As general counsel, that’s your job isn’t it?”
Pence: “It is.”
The speaker then inquired how Wessinger- the director of marketing and therefore someone who would encourage people to play Fortnite and spend money on the game, would not know the averages of spending, numbers of items bough, or playing time. Wessinger reiterated that he felt such information would be commercially sensitive information. The discussion then shifted focus to EA.
What do you all think? Was the a comment taken out of context? Was the speaker overly focused on his inquiry? Were the Epic representatives abnormally secretive? Sound off in the comments below!