Regulators Oppose the Darkside
This week has been immeasurably sweet for opponents of EA. EA in their utter hubris have bitten off way more than they can chew, and now they wish that pissed off Star Wars bugmen were the biggest problem on their plate. For week upon week the problem of loot boxes has been brought to the ESRB, only to have them dismissively wave their hands and claim that they were not gambling. Now it may be too late for them to spare their industry paymasters from more stringent industry oversight. The avarice of EA may have killed the goose who poops the golden turds!
The week started with the great lie: EA claimed that their decision to temporarily postpone loot box implementation was due to their desire to be attentive towards the complaints of customers. Wrong! False! EA received an angry phone call from Bob Iger, and then thirty minutes later they made the announcement that loot boxes had been delayed. Coincidence? Disney is releasing a big new entry in the Star Wars film franchise this month, and they do not want it tarnished by EA’s decision to encourage children to gamble!
EA’s comical dishonesty was just a sideshow however, as the main feature was the fact that their astonishing greed has led to a number of legislators and regulators the world over to scrutinise EA’s gambling mechanics with a view to restricting or prohibiting them. Countries that we know to be taking actions include Belgium, Australia (Victoria), America (Hawaii), and France. Belgium has been leading the field, with a full commission having spent the week exploring whether games featuring loot boxes should be prohibited. The commission has yet to reach a conclusion, yet the Belgian Minister of Justice, Koen Geens, appears to have already pre-empted their findings:
“Mixing gambling and gaming, especially at a young age, is dangerous for the mental health of the child.”
An analyst for the compliance division of the Victorian liquor and gambling enforcement body [VCGLR] has revealed that their views regarding loot boxes are even more set in stone. Unfortunately however, it is very difficult for this agency to sanction any party that is operating from outside of Victoria. They do not see prosecuting EA as much of a viable option, and so instead are looking at cooperating with the Australian Classification Board [OFLC] in order to ensure that games which feature loot box mechanics are awarded with an automatic R18+ rating:
“Your research and suppositions on the matter are correct; what occurs with “loot boxes” does constitute gambling by the definition of the Victorian Legislation. Unfortunately where the complexity arises is in jurisdiction and our powers to investigate. Legislation has not moved as quick as the technology; at both State and Federal level we are not necessarily equipped to determine the legality of these practices in lieu of the fact the entities responsible are overseas.
But I am a Strategic Analyst, my job is essentially to look at strategies to bring about changes without the necessity of kicking in garage doors and scaring the hell out of a bunch of students. Hence our interest in “loot boxes”. Enforcement is probably not an option, but we can consider working with other agencies to bring about change in other ways. For instance; if these companies want to include significant elements of gambling in their products then perhaps we should work with “The Australian Classification Board” to ensure than any product that does that and monetises it gets an immediate R rating. I could imagine that this would send ripples through the industry and it would support the objectives of the Gambling Legislation to ensure minors are not encouraged to participate in gambling.
As far as affecting change from the consumer perspective. For me, instead of playing certain Star Wars games I was looking forward to, I will be concerting my efforts on collecting EVERY.SINGLE.MOON in Odyssey.”
This correspondence also provides some additional hope for the future, with it hinting towards what is very much a shifting landscape within all such government bodies:
“It is perhaps unfortunate for these companies that gamers have infiltrated most areas of government; be assured that knowledgeable and interested parties are undertaking a large body of work in relation to issues you noted. And if an avenue of investigation or enforcement is found; then we will most definitely pursue it.”
An automatic R18+ rating might not do much to dissuade EA from sticking loot boxes in their next Battlefield game, since military shooters are likely to be rated R18+ anyway on account of violence, but for franchises like Star Wars it certainly would make a difference. Disney would absolutely baulk at having their all ages Star Wars property being slapped with an 18+ certificate, meaning that it might not be possible for EA to do this with subsequent Star Wars games. What could be much more interesting than this is if American lawmakers decide to prohibit the sale of loot box games to US minors, since that would require that the game carry a 21+ Adults Only certificate, which may as well be a ban, since most American stores will not sell games which exceed that M17+ rating.
Do not be at all surprised if in the next few months we see the ESRB madly scramble to make loot box transactions worthy of an M17+ certificate, as the industry must be getting really worried now that somebody is going to do something to effectively prohibit their great new cash cow of loot box gambling mechanics. If they can get out ahead of this and do what decency should have compelled them to do months ago, then it is possible that legislators might still lose interest in the issue. Let us hope that does not happen – people should not be exposed to gambling unless they specifically go looking for it. Games are not an appropriate vehicle for gambling.
Valkyria Rides Again
There has never been a big franchise more immediately mismanaged than Valkyria Chronicles. When Valkyria Chronicles released in America it outsold the game’s Japanese release by an almost 3-to-1 basis. The game sold 710k copies in America, 190k copies in Europe, and 240k copies in Japan. So what to do when your first game has been a massive hit in the US? Stick the sequel on a portable which is unpopular in the American market! Valkyria Chronicles II’s sales immediately fell to 120k sold in the US, 160k in Europe, and 180k in Japane! For some reason the game even failed to do well in Japan, which loves portable gaming – so the game’s US sales were sacrificed in order to appeal to a market that did not even wish to see the series transitioned to the PSP!
Valkyria Chronicles III was not even released in the West. It was once again developed for PSP, and sold 210k copies in Japan. Way to tank a franchise! Sega attempted to bring Valkyria back earlier in the year with Valkyria: Azure Revolution, yet the game did not use the same gameplay mechanics as the Valkyria Chronicles games, and by all accounts it was not very good. The game sold 190k copies across three different platforms!
Following the failure of Azure Revolution one could be forgiven for thinking that valkyria Chronicles was finally dead for good, yet a mere five months later it is this author’s great joy to impart the good news that next year we are getting a legitimate Valkyria Chronicles 4. This game is already 90% complete, it will see the return of the Canvas Engine, and it even has some cool new additions to gameplay. The Grenadier class is able to lob grenades over enemy cover from mid-to-long range, and the unit will be strong against both tanks and infantry, yet will not be able to attack enemies at close range. The game will release in 2018 for PS4, Switch, and Xbone.
Plants Vs Zombies Creator Sacked for Opposing Microtransactions
The hot button issues over the last two weeks in industry news have undoubtedly been EA forcing anti-consumer pay-to-win microtransactions into their games, and EA sacking talented developers – so why not combine the two? In the wake of the loot box controversy dogging EA, Edmund McMillen, of Super Meat Boy and Binding of Isaac fame, joined Alex Larrabee on his Roundtable Podcast. While there he revealed that shortly after the EA buyout of PopCap, George Fan, the creator of Plants vs Zombies, was sacked by EA just prior to the commencement of Plants vs. Zombies 2’s development. So why fire the creator of a successful franchise right before its sequel was set to begin development? Because EA mandated that Plants vs. Zombies 2 be a pay-to-win game, and George Fan attempted to resist this, because at that point Plants vs. Zombies was still his baby.
It boggles one’s mind that EA seems to be in this constant state of puzzlement and disbelief as to why they keep getting voted as being the worst company in America when they are the industry’s biggest adversary to the creator and consumer alike! They are a constant opponent to creativity and integrity, and they are the belligerent assailants of consumer rights.
George Fan later tacitly confirmed McMillen’s recounting of events on Twitter:
“Regarding recent rumors, it is true I was laid off by EA/PopCap, and also true that I was against making PvZ2 a freemium game. That’s all I’ll say on the matter for now”
How is it possible that EA is able to so consistently mess with and ruin their studios, and yet they are still in business? It seems like the sort of thing that should ruin a business. You have the creator of Plants vs. Zombies, and rather than treat him as an asset, the company sacks him because they would rather implement their vile ways of making money. EA needs to be destroyed!