Despite the recent consumer backlash against loot boxes, EA Sports vice president and COO Daryl Holt insists the model is sustainable.
Until the fallout around loot boxes in Star Wars Battlefront II, the mechanic had appeared in games with relatively little criticism; titles like FIFA in particular went mostly unmolested in the public arena, despite loot boxes featuring heavily in the franchise.
"It's a different play model and that's the aspect you need to lean into when we talk about player choice as part of our player-first mantra," says Holt during an interview with GamesIndustry.biz at Gamelab Barcelona this week. "They're given the choice on how they want to compete.
"I can earn things in FIFA Ultimate Team just by playing the game, at whatever tier I want to play at. I can also beat you if you have a better-rated team because I'm better than you at FIFA. I don't worry about what my rating is as a team... That aspect of choice and how we engage with EA Sports is a very different aspect with how we look at the controversy that came up around Battlefront."
But the Battlefront controversy dragged loot boxes into the light, causing it to be reconsidered like it never had before and raising questions around the long-term sustainability of the model.
"Our model is sustainable," says Holt. "It's certainly changed us -- in the way it always does in terms of anything you hear from a player or from the industry -- in how we all react and adapt to it.
"For example the disclosure of pack odds that's coming to our EA Sports games, so we can see those things and have an understanding around it, and how we communicate and we deal with live service models and how we test things and implement feedback across all of EA.
"But for EA Sports and Ultimate Team, the mode is very popular. It works the way it works and provides the players the choice to play the way they want to play, which i think is valuable as long as we make sure it's fair and isn't a detriment to that."
But EA's view on loot boxes remains at odds with that of the Belgian Gaming Commission which ruled that the mechanic -- irrespective of the real-world value of items or the ability to trade them outside of the game -- remains a violation of gambling legislation.
Following the decision, EA responded saying: "We strongly believe that our games are developed and implemented ethically and lawfully around the world."
It's a stance which Holt maintains, saying: "We don't believe loot boxes are gambling."
He continued: "You know exactly what you're getting, you have disclosure on the assets that you buy. It's not gambling; we provide the pack odds so you know what might pop up in a pack, there is no real-world currency value to any of the assets.
"[There's] a distinct disconnect between what's being said, what's being asked about and what's being thought about versus what's actually in the industry... I can't answer the question on where it might go or what might happen, we can just continue to make the best experience for players."
Irrespective of what EA believes is or is not gambling, the Belgian Gaming Commission has ruled that loot boxes violate the legislation and action will eventually be taken. For now, Belgian justice minister Koen Geens is meeting with industry stakeholders to begin a dialogue on where to go next.
Peter Naessens, director of the Belgian Gaming Commission, recently told GamesIndustry.biz: "We are going to take all preparatory measures for the drafting of police reports, but it's not going to be tomorrow. There is a certain amount of time for the minister of justice, but it's not unlimited."
Either the Belgian Gaming Commission re-addresses its own position, or companies like EA will be forced to change their model.
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