Much like EA, Epic Games used its meeting with the UK Parliament’s Digital, Culture Media and Sport Committee (DMSC) to display a complete disregard for their own responsibilities as a business. The bulk of Epic’s presence revolved around Fortnite, one of the most popular games in the world right now. It’s free-to-play of course, but it’s also stacked with a bucketload of cosmetic purchases alongside the regular Fortnite Battle Passes.
Fortnite is a very different proposition to EA’s loot box problems. Fortnite has no loot boxes whatsoever right now, and all of its income is derived from Battle Passes and sales of specific cosmetics. There’s no gambling element here, although there is the ability for people, particularly children, to spend vast sums of money in a short amount of time.
On a typical gambling website here in the UK, for example, you can set caps on your own spending in order to help with potential addiction problems, or even opt to lock yourself out of your account for a specified period. Fortnite has none of this, and it doesn’t appear as if Epic thinks this is its problem whatsoever.
Epic Games legal counsel, Canon Pence, received a bit of a blasting from the committee, failing to provide any information regarding how much Fortnite players spend, how often they play, how long they play, or even whether their players were minors or not. “Unfortunately, as a private company, we consider that competitive information that we don’t feel comfortable sharing,” said an evasive Pence.
"I don't believe that you don't know this information and to me, it arouses suspicion that this isn't something we can discuss," said Collins, the chair of the hearing.
Somewhat amazingly, Pence went on to say that verifying Fortnite’s players are 12 years old (the age rating assigned in the UK) isn’t a necessary step, shifting the blame onto the likes of Sony, who hold the user account data.
“If you’re an Epic player, having an Epic account, we need less about you if you’re just a free to play player and not paying any money than we would need if you’re buying something in the store,” explained Pence. “At a high level, it’s our view that we intend to collect the minimal amount and we don’t believe that in Epic account servicing, we need age in order to deliver what is requested by the account holder.”
To which Pence was asked, “So you don’t think it’s necessary to comply with data regulations and laws by establishing the age of people who play your game?” His response was simple - “We don’t.”
The rest of the discussions just gets more and more bizarre though, with Mathew Weissinger, director of marketing at Epic Games, even saying at one point that Epic doesn’t make money from Fortnite. “I would disagree with the statement that Epic makes money from people playing the games. The Battle Royale mode is free to play,” said Weissinger. I sure do want to earn as little as Epic.
Evasive answers just ended up casting more suspicion over Epic’s actions, more than anything. They were in the hot seat for a massively different issue to EA, in the end, fighting off accusations of gaming addiction as well as how Fortnite is marketed specifically toward children. It’s a thorny topic, for sure, but Epic has to at least make an effort to acknowledge where it could do better. During the discussion, Epic Games openly admitted it had made zero effort to check whether Fortnite’s systems could be potentially harmless to children. “You are allowing these children to have access without checking their age before they can access your game, you seem to be taking no responsibility, no duty of care at all,” said Pence.
At the end of the day, this is an issue for which the blame can’t be laid solely at the door for one party. Epic Games, platform holders, and parents are all facilitating the potential for Fortnite addiction and/or excessive amounts of money being spent. If Epic Games can’t self-regulate though, then it’s only going to mean more invasive methods from governing bodies. We suspect this is just the tip of the iceberg in terms of what we hear in the coming years about microtransactions, loot crates, and gaming addiction.
As with the Electronic Arts story earlier this year, you can view the full footage here. It's 2h 40m though, so brew a coffee and buckle up.