EA executive defends loot boxes in Parliamentary hearing

20 June 2019

A senior figure at games developer Electronic Arts (EA) has defended loot boxes in a committee grilling by MPs, likening them to Kinder egg surprises.

Kerry Hopkins, vice president of legal and government affairs, was giving evidence to the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee for its inquiry into Immersive and Addictive Technologies.

Committee member Brendan O'Hara, the SNP MP, asked Hopkins to respond to a study by Dr David Zendle of York St John University which found that loot boxes are “closely linked to problem gambling, particularly among adolescents”, and asked Hopkins if she believes they are “an ethical feature” of EA’s titles, such as football game FIFA.

“[People] enjoy surprises,” Hopkins said. “It is something that has been part of toys for years, whether it is Kinder Eggs or Hatchimals or LOL Surprise!.

“We think the way we have implemented those kinds of mechanics—and FIFA, of course, is our big one, our FIFA Ultimate Team and our packs—is quite ethical and quite fun; it is enjoyable to people.”

Kinder Eggs, Hatchimals and LOL Suprise! are 'blind boxed' items which contain any of a number of different toys.

Hopkins said EA does not believe the loot boxes are a form of gambling. However, she added, the company has complied with rulings from authorities in Belgium and the Netherlands, which have classified them under gambling laws.

In the UK, loot boxes are not considered gambling if items found within them can also be unlocked by players through playing the game.

“We agree with the UK Gambling Commission, the Australian gambling commission and many other gambling commissions that they are not gambling, and we also disagree that there is evidence that shows it leads to gambling,” Hopkins said. “Instead, we think it is like many other products that people enjoy in a very healthy way. They like the element of surprise.”

Hopkins said EA does not allow in-game sales of virtual products and supports the authorities in their pursuit of people who trade them in the real world.

“We put every lock and protection in place to ensure that it does not happen. There is no incentive for us to let it happen,” said Hopkins.

“It is bad for us; it is bad for our players. I personally have supported both the UK Gambling Commission and the FBI in going after people who do this. We take it very seriously.”

The inquiry was launched to examine the development of immersive technologies such as virtual and augmented reality, and the potential impact these could have in the worlds of sport, entertainment and news. The inquiry is also looking at how the addictive nature of some technologies can affect users’ engagement with gaming and social media, particularly amongst younger people.

As well as Hopkins, MPs also questioned Shaun Campbell, EA’s UK country manager, and Matthew Weissinger and Canon Pence, executives at Epic Games, the company behind the game Fortnite.

Next week the committee will take evidence from the games company King, the makers of the Candy Crush Saga.