A legal representative for EA told the UK Parliament that loot box systems are “surprise mechanics” after being questioned regarding the ethical implication of loot boxes.

On June 19, the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee of the British House of Commons held a hearing to discuss “Immersive and addictive technologies”. In attendance were Epic Games General Counsel Canon Pence, EA’s Director of Marketing Matthew Weissinger, and EA Vice President of Legal and Government Affairs Kerry Hopkins. These representatives were present at the hearing to present oral evidence in defense of their loot box mechanics and answer questions from the Members of Parliament.

At one point in the discussion, Scottish National Party MP Brendan O’Hara raised the issue of the ethical dilemma presented by loot boxes before directly asking the representatives from both companies if loot boxes were, in fact, ethical:

“You may not have a legal duty of care, I think you can agree that a company like yourselves should have a ‘code of ethics’, and we’ve had a lot of evidence in this committee from Dr. David Zendle, among others, that loot boxes are mostly linked to problem gambling, particularly among adolescents. Can I ask you, both companies, do you consider loot boxes to be an ‘ethical’ feature of your games?”

O’Hara would first call upon Hopkins to respond, who proceed to clarify that loot boxes are referred to by EA as ‘surprise mechanics,’ comparing their function to small treats such as Kinder Eggs or Hatchimals:

“Well first, we don’t call them loot boxes. So what we look at as “surprise mechanics,” but I think it’s 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.”

When pressed further by O’Hara as to whether or not Hopkins believed these systems were ethical, Hopkins also referred to loot boxes as a “randomized content mechanic” before misspeaking and claiming she believed the loot boxes were implemented unethically; from context, it is clear that she believes that loot boxes are ethical:

O’Hara:  “Your loot boxes, or surprise mechanics, you have no ethical qualms whatsoever with?”

Hopkins: “For all of the games we have on the market that have a randomized content mechanic, a surprise mechanic, a loot box, I have no qualms that they are implemented in an unethical way.”

O’Hara then raised the topic of the rulings by the countries, such as Belgium and the Netherlands, which classified loot box mechanics as gambling and banned the sale of loot boxes in games released in their countries. Hopkins responded by stating that the decisions to label loot boxes as gambling were due to differences in the laws between different countries, rather than an inherent ethical flaw in the mechanic:

O’Hara: “The Netherlands and Belguim have classified these surprise mechanics as Gambling, haven’t they?”

Hopkins: “Belgium and Netherlands have taken a different view from every other gambling commission in the world.”

O’Hara: “Why, then, would two of our European neighbors take that view?”

Hopkins: “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 local law, that these mechanics under certain circumstances violate the law.”

Ultimately, the Members of Parliament and the representatives called upon as witnesses would adjourn the session with little agreement between each party and even less progress made towards tackling the controversial reward system.

What do you make of Electronic Arts responses regarding loot boxes?