Electronic Arts has been one of the bigger players at the center of the loot box debate ever since the lead-up to the release of Star Wars: Battlefront II. That title has been a catalyst for discussion amongst U.S. lawmakers about the predatory nature of loot boxes, though no legislation has been written to date. That isn’t the case abroad, however, as Battlefront and EA’s wildly profitable FIFA Ultimate Team mode spurred the Belgian and Dutch governments to classify the loot box mechanics as a form of gambling, violating laws in both nations.
Despite this new regulation, and other nations appearing to move toward similar rulings, EA’s CEO, Andrew Wilson, has no plans to discontinue the “Ultimate Team” mode or any loot box mechanic in the company’s future titles. “We’re going to continue pushing forward [with FIFA Ultimate Team] … 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 continue to work with regulators on that,” said Wilson during a conference call (per VentureBeat).
It’s understandable why Wilson would push forward with the inclusion of loot boxes. The “Ultimate Team” mode is a very popular inclusion in every EA Sports title and heavily contributed to EA’s continued profitability. The publisher posted a $1.25 billion profit last quarter, despite not releasing a major title. Income that came from card pack purchases made in “Ultimate Team” modes heavily impacted that total.
Wilson argues that the “Ultimate Team” modes, and its loot boxes overall, included in its games aren’t gambling because players “always receive a specified number of items” from them, the company doesn’t “provide or authorize any way to cash out digital items or virtual currency for real-world money” and doesn’t assign real-money value to its in-game items. Wilson’s defense doesn’t address the use of real money to purchase loot boxes within EA’s games, nor does it provide a valid defense against the randomized delivery of items from those purchases. Both of those points, along with the predatory nature and targeting of minors, were what led to the new regulations.
There’s also the problem of unaffiliated services that allow players to exchange in-game items for real money. Wilson said the company is aware of the existence of such services and is working “to eliminate that where it’s going on in an illegal environment.” Wilson said the company continues to work with regulators on both combating these services and the company’s ability to utilize loot boxes as a live game revenue stream.
Wilson’s statements fly in the face of reports that the company was rethinking its loot box strategy ahead of the release of major titles Battlefield V and Anthem. The latter is of special note, as many within Anthem developer BioWare see the forthcoming title’s performance as a make-or-break situation for the studio after Mass Effect: Andromeda performed so poorly that the series was shelved for the foreseeable future. Wilson may be protecting one of EA’s most productive revenue streams, but such hubris in the face of federal governments could backfire, especially when more fans are swinging to the anti-loot box side of the debate.