EA calls loot boxes 'surprise mechanics' and compares them to Kinder Eggs

Representatives from EA and Epic met with the UK Parliament's Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee this week in an evidence session for its investigation into "addictive and immersive technologies". MPs quizzed lawyers and marketing executives in a strained, occasionally hostile meeting, touching on subjects like age verification and loot boxes. 

Things got off to a bizarre start when Epic was asked to respond to Prince Harry's criticism of Fortnite. Maybe it was a novelty for the Americans, who probably don't often have to worry about what the grandson of the Queen thinks. 

From there, anecdotes were thrown around as evidence, including a story from The Sun, and when Epic and EA didn't provide answers, the MPs just asked the same question in a slightly different way, going around and around in a big, boring circle. How much people spend in Fortnite was a detail MPs were particularly interested in, but Epic wasn't willing to share that information the first time it was asked or the 20th.

When the publishers were able to answer questions, they got pretty creative. When asked about loot boxes, EA defended them as "ethical and fun", and added that it doesn't call them loot boxes. They are "surprise mechanics", just like surprise toys. Right. 

"If you go to 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 that people enjoy—they enjoy surprises," said Kerry Hopkins, VP of legal and government affairs. "And so it's something that's been part of toys for years, whether it's Kinder Eggs or Hatchimals or LOL Surprise."

Hopkins added that EA agrees with the UK and Australian gambling commissions that found loot boxes weren't gambling, while it disagrees that there's evidence that it does lead to gambling. It's just a "healthy" surprise, apparently. 

Confusion was a theme—over language, games, the questions—with highlights including one MP asking if Epic can close down text messages. He meant chat, but for a moment Epic's representatives struggled to explain that they don't have control over SMS. Later, Fortnite gets compared to a casino. 

"If a 15-year-old boy—or it could be a girl for that matter—turns up at a casino and tries to walk in, or a betting shop, is it the responsibility of the parents to stop that child going into that betting shop or is it the owner of the betting shop?"

The mood was fairly tense throughout, and surprisingly that tension was not broken by the half-hearted lawyer jokes that kept being rolled out. 

So the investigation is going well, then! You can watch the whole agonisingly long, meandering session here. Enjoy!