EA Legal VP Says Its Money-Grab Loot Boxes Are ‘Surprise Mechanics’ And ‘Quite Ethical’

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Confession time: I'm an avid watcher of Judge Judy. I think she's rad, and her style of mediating disputes definitely falls into the 'firm but fair' category. One of her favorite sayings is, "Don't pee on my leg and tell me it's raining." That's also the title of her book, incidentally, and I'm reminded of it when watching Electronics Arts' Vice President of Legal, Kerry Hopkins, explain that loot boxes are actually just "surprise mechanics."

According to Hopkins, Loot boxes (excuse me, surprise mechanics) are "quite ethical" too, akin to Hatchimals, the popular toy that delights kids with a plush toy hatching from a plastic egg. Or if you prefer, substitute Kinder Egg or LOL Surprise, which are similar toys. EA's legal stance is that loot boxes fall into the same category, and ostensibly does not understand what all the fuss is about.
Hopkins made the remark on behalf of EA while testifying before the UK Parliament's Digital, Culture, Media, and Sport Committee, on the topic of microtransactions (and specifically loot boxes).

"Well first, we don't call them loot boxes," Hopkins said, then clarifying that they are actually surprise mechanics. She then went on to compare them to the above toys, which can be found in places like Target and Walmart.

"We do think the way that we have implemented these kinds of mechanics—and FIFA of course is our big one, our FIFA Ultimate Team and our packs—is actually quite ethical and quite fun, quite enjoyable to people," Hopkins said. "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 healthy way, and like the element of surprise."

In other words, EA does not find anything wrong with loot boxes, and is opposed to legislation that might ban them. That's exactly what some countries have done, as it pertains to loot boxes with random contents. Sorry, I keep forgetting, I mean surprise contents.

There is a strong counter argument, of course, hence why Hopkins was testifying in the first place. Heather Alexandria wrote an interesting piece for Kotaku a couple of years ago that delves into the controversial world of loot boxes, and how they employ "psychological trickery" that is not totally different from how slot machines encourage gamblers to keep pulling the handle (or press or tap buttons, as is the case nowadays).

Don't believe it? Check out what an Overwatch developer had to say on the matter, according to Alexandria.

"When you start opening a loot box, we want to build anticipation," the developer said. "We do this in a lot of ways—animations, camera work, spinning plates, and sounds. We even build a little anticipation with the glow that emits from a loot box’s cracks before you open it."

Sounds a lot like how a slot machine works. I'm not saying loot boxes are straight up gambling—there is some gray area. However, it sure does feel like EA is peeing on our legs and telling us it's raining.