Electronic Arts has caused some major controversy with the inclusion of loot boxes in Star Wars: Battlefront 2. However, in a recent earnings call, EA chief executive Andrew Wilson said they are planning to “push forward” with loot boxes in future games. He also challenged the common complaint about loot boxes being a form of gambling.
What exactly are loot boxes?
As many may remember, when Star Wars: Battlefront 2 released last year, it offered a loot box system. Sometimes referred to as a ‘gacha’ system (named after gachapon, a Japanese vending machine-dispensed capsule toy), loot box systems allow the player to buy items at random for virtual currency. Most games that use this system exist in the mobile market, but larger games like Overwatch also make use of them. Almost all loot box systems allow players to convert real-life cash into virtual currency to buy said loot boxes.
What sparked the Great Loot Box Panic of 2017 was the fact that when it was released, the loot boxes in Star Wars: Battlefront 2 contained items that could make players stronger mixed in with cosmetic items. This was a problem. In a game like Overwatch, every loot box item was purely cosmetic and simply for show. Battlefront 2, however, could have lucky players be stronger than those who’ve played longer. What if a player starts up Battlefront 2 for the first time and spends a few grand on loot boxes? Concerned players deemed this system ‘pay-to-win’, a deadly label for a big-name game. Battlefront 2 has revamped the loot box system, but concerns still remain.
Another round of controversy?
Andrew Wilson recently spoke to Seeking Alpha about loot boxes. Responding to a question about possible changes to FIFA Ultimate Team microtransactions, Wilson stated:
As you might imagine, we’re working with all the industry associations globally and with regulators in various jurisdictions and territories, many of whom we’ve been working with for some time and have evaluated and established that programs like FIFA Ultimate Team are not gambling, and we don’t believe that FIFA Ultimate Team or loot boxes are gambling.”
* Seeking Alpha’s transcription reads “…we don’t believe that FIFA Ultimate Team – all loot boxes are gambling.” The language in the quote above was rewritten for clarification, as the phone audio isn’t clear.
Wilson defended his position by stating that players receive the same amount of items from each FUT pack. In addition, the items can’t be cashed out for real-life money, a problem other games face. Wilson concludes his company’s plan to “continue to push forward” with microtransactions with the following statement:
We’re always thinking about our players. We’re always thinking about how to deliver these types of experiences in a transparent, fun, fair, and balanced way for our players, and we’ll communicate with regulators around the world on it.
The regulators are most likely references to Belgium and the Netherlands. Belgium and the Netherlands recently enforced gambling laws that cracked down on loot boxes. The United States is also considering legislation against loot boxes.