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EA and Epic called before UK Parliamentary Committee to discuss loot boxes and gaming disorder

Electronic Arts and Epic Games were called to give evidence before the UK’s Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee yesterday. As reported by Kotaku UK, during a discussion focussed on lootboxes and compulsive behaviours, both companies claimed it had not instigated investigations into whether or not its products could be harmful or addictive.

Representing Electronic Arts were outgoing UK and Ireland country manager Shaun Campbell and vice president of legal and government affairs Kerry Hopkins, who reframed the term “loot boxes” as “surprise mechanics”. Epic Games was represented by Matthew Weissinger, director of marketing, and Canon Pence, the company’s general counsel.

“We do not have anybody in the company who’s a monetisation specialist,” Weissinger said. “What we do have are people in charge of curating our item shop…” When pushed to respond, Weissenger added that while Epic did think about the issue, “we’ve not commissioned scientists to go and study it”.

When asked if the companies collected the age profile of people who play its games, he further added: “We don’t. We only collect info that’s necessary around the game as a service.”

In some instances, committee members needed basic features about gaming – such as what a PlayStation PSN account is – to be explained to them, and did not initially understand that to obtain a PSN account the player must be at least 18. There were frequent references to parental responsibilities and at one point, Simon Hart MP compared the games industry to the drinks industry.

The discussion was focussed on some baseless claims in UK tabloid media, and included alarmist and occasionally inaccurate reports on the changing legislative landscape in other countries, such as Belgium and The Netherlands, which have clamped down on loot boxes in video games. According to Kotaku, games were “compared to illegal drugs” and casinos, and reflected upon the WHO’s recent agreement to list gaming disorder as an official addictive disorder in the 11th International Classification of Diseases (ICD-11) (something disputed by Epic’s Pence, who said: “I don’t think it’s fair to say that gaming is a disorder”).

“I think the use of the term addiction unfortunately separately masks the passion that our players have,” added Weissenberg, “the joy they get from playing our game, personally I think it is mis-characterisation to call that addiction.”

“As a company we really care about our playerbase and our rep as a company,” added Pence. “That’s not a thing we do in isolation […] it’s a thing we’re willing and happy to have ongoing dialogue about. We don’t have a sort of static position on that exactly. I do think it’s unfair to put a game company that has a very limited relationship with an end user… to ask them to comment on the mental health of an individual player. That ought to be the domain of the medical profession.”

Giles Whatley MP added: “Now we have open-ended gaming, the issues that we’ve established quite clearly of addiction, we had a young man before us on this committee who was an undergraduate and managed to play 32 hours straight […] a 9 year old girl who wet herself playing Fortnite […] clearly the games industry has developed massively since those days of the CD-ROM and clearly regulation is behind the curve […] you’re creating a fun game and everything but inadvertently you’re creating a monster.

In the future are you going to take corporate responsibility over duty of care? So that in the future we can safeguard the vulnerable.”

“I certainly acknowledge that there’s more the industry can do,” replied Pence. “We ourselves on the Epic side do and have made improvements there and I anticipate continuing to do so both for ourselves and with other industry groups.”

Image credit: Kotaku UK

About Vikki Blake

It took 15 years of civil service monotony for Vikki to crack and switch to writing about games. She has since become an experienced reporter and critic working with a number of specialist and mainstream outlets in both the UK and beyond.

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