It’s certainly not a stretch to say that the major crackdown on in-game microtransactions all started with EA. The oft-criticized publisher set off a storm of criticism due to its implementation of microtransactions in Star Wars Battlefront II. And the ball just kept rolling from there, like a Katamari of controversy, much of it levied at so-called “loot boxes,” that contain a random assortment of items. But wait! EA doesn’t consider these things to be “loot boxes” at all, preferring to call them “surprise mechanics.” The publisher sees them as “quite ethical,” comparing them to such toys as found at any toy store.
The very odd exchange took place at a session with the United Kingdom’s Digital, Culture, Media, and Sports Committee. Scottish National Party MP Brendan O’Hara asked Kerry Hopkins, VP of legal and government affairs for EA, how the company viewed loot boxes. Hopkins responded by saying, “We don’t call them loot boxes,” but rather “surprise mechanics.” Whatever that means.
Continuing to answer O’Hara’s question, Hopkins said EA views “surprise mechanics” as “actually quite ethical and quite fun.” She somewhat bafflingly compared them to “surprise toys” that can be found on store shelves. Specifically, she compares them to toys like Kinder Eggs, Hatchimals, or LOL Surprise (which I totally did not have to look up while writing this).
Hopkins continues saying that EA as a company agrees with bodies, like the UK, that do not see loot boxes as a form of gambling. Of course, there are just as many bodies that have called these in-game purchases gambling, perhaps most notably Belgium, where EA stopped selling FIFA points altogether.
This is likely going to be only the latest struggle EA faces as more and more countries attempt to address the continued prominence of microtransactions. A United States senator recently introduced a bill that would ban microtransactions in all games “designed for children,” specifically citing FIFA as a game that would be impacted. Despite the continued efforts, no clear answer has emerged regarding this issue, though I think we can all agree “surprise mechanics” is a terrible, terrible name.