Fortnite boss says game loot boxes ’cause harm’
Epic Games’s co-founder has called for the end of pay-to-play “loot boxes” in video games.
Tim Sweeney argues the gaming industry is profiting from “doing customers harm”.
Free-to-download games often encourage players to buy virtual boxes, which contain an unspecified number of items.
Some also have online marketplaces where players can trade or sell these items.
Global video game franchises including Fifa and Overwatch are among those to offer in-game purchases built around random items.
Epic Games’s hugely successful game Fortnite changed the way it uses loot boxes in-game in 2019, allowing players to see the contents before purchase.
A slot machine-style system has become popular in recent years, especially in free-to-download games including Mario Kart World Tour, which faced intense criticism over its monetisation features when it was launched in September.
During his keynote speech at the Dice Summit in Las Vegas, Mr Sweeney warned that such practices were putting both players and the industry at risk.
“We have to ask ourselves, as an industry, what we want to be when we grow up,” he said.
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“Do we want to be like Las Vegas, with slot machines or do we want to be widely respected as creators of products that customers can trust? I think we will see more and more publishers move away from loot boxes.”
In 2018, Belgium became the first country to ban the sale of video game loot boxes.
Mr Sweeney added: “We should be very reticent of creating an experience where the outcome can be influenced by spending money. Loot boxes play on all the mechanics of gambling except for the ability to get more money out in the end.
“We have businesses that profit by doing their customers harm.”
Fortnite is just one of of many titles to have faced a backlash from parents over the ease with which purchases can be made in-game.
It has 200 million registered players worldwide and is free to download, but players can spend money on in-game purchases.
It made over $2.4bn in revenue for Epic Games in 2018.
A report last year issued by the organisation Internet Matters found that 26% of the 2,000 parents of four to 16-year-olds it spoke to were concerned about the amount of money their children were spending on in-game purchases.
Two lawyers in France filed a lawsuit against gaming giant EA this month over claims that the “Ultimate Team” mode of its popular video game series Fifa should be labelled as gambling.
In Ultimate Team, players can earn or buy packs of cards featuring popular football stars and then sell unwanted items in an auction-style marketplace.