State legislators call EA’s game a 'Star Wars-themed online casino' preying on kids, vow action

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EA's 'Star Wars' gamer outrage raises questions over microtransactions    7:10 PM ET Wed, 22 Nov 2017 | 01:10

And so it begins. Politicians are joining the angry gamer rebellion against Electronic Arts" aggressive in-game money-making strategy inside its new "Star Wars Battlefront II" title.

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Hawaiian state Reps. Chris Lee and Sean Quinlan vowed to take action to protect underage kids from the game"s monetization practices.

"This game is basically a Star Wars-themed online casino designed to lure kids into an addictive cycle of gambling money for a chance to win game upgrades. These exploitive mechanisms have no place in games being marketed to minors, and perhaps no place in games at all," Lee said Tuesday in a press statement.

"Nothing currently prevents EA from exploiting people buying lootcrates with random contents through microtransactions because there is no requirement to disclose the odds of winning something meaningful, and companies like these are allowed to specifically target youth without the cognitive maturity to know when they are being exploited."

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"We have already asked the Attorney General to look into this situation. We are also looking at legislation to protect families by prohibiting the sale of games with these gambling mechanisms to those who are underage, or prohibiting these gambling mechanisms altogether," he added.

The politicians noted they are not alone and are working with legislators in other states.

"We know it will give families who have been victims of these predatory practices a sense of pride and accomplishment to have worked to prevent future exploitation and we have been working both with them and legislators in other states who are also considering ways to address this important issue," Lee said.

One widely followed Wall Street analyst is not impressed with legislators" arguments.

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"The legislators are morons. "Gambling" requires a wager to win something of tangible value. If the thing won can"t be sold or monetized, it isn"t gambling. Period. Morons. Should resign immediately," Wedbush Securities Michael Pachter said on social media in reaction to the announcement.

Currently the loot box in-game purchasing mechanic the representatives are criticizing is temporarily turned off in the game.

Electronic Arts announced on Nov. 16, a day before the game"s official launch day, it is temporarily turning off all in-game purchases in "Star Wars Battlefront II" in response to the negative sentiment from the gaming community.

"It"s clear that many of you feel there are still challenges in the design. We"ve heard the concerns about potentially giving players unfair advantages. … Sorry we didn"t get this right," EA wrote in the post. "We hear you loud and clear, so we"re turning off all in-game purchases. … The ability to purchase crystals in-game will become available at a later date, only after we"ve made changes to the game."

The initial uproar centered on in-game purchases in "Star Wars Battlefront II." They allowed players to save time by paying extra money to acquire loot boxes which contain "Star Cards," helping accelerate the time to "unlock" major characters like Darth Vader.

The gaming community flooded social media and Reddit with thousands of negative posts, saying the company is unfairly compelling consumers to spend more money for content that should be part of the initial $60 game price.

Quinlan mentioned the tobacco industry as a corollary to their efforts in protecting underage kids.

"We all remember Joe Camel being used to encourage kids to smoke cigarettes – we shouldn"t let Star Wars be used to encourage kids to gamble," he said. "Star Wars is a global brand, one of the most valuable intellectual properties in the entertainment industry, and owned by the world"s foremost purveyor of movies for children. With great power comes great responsibility, and in this case the onus is on Disney and Electronic Arts to take a strong stand against underage gambling."

In-game purchasing and microtransactions have been a controversial topic in the gaming industry.

Former Electronic Arts employee Manveer Heir questioned the publisher"s strategy in an interview with Waypoint last month.

"The reason is that EA and those big publishers in general only care about the highest return on investment. They don"t actually care about what the players want, they care about what the players will pay for," Heir said. "You need to understand the amount of money that"s at play with microtransactions … I"ve seen people literally spend $15,000 on Mass Effect multiplayer cards."

Electronic Arts declined to comment. Disney did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The Entertainment Software Association, the gaming industry"s trade association, in response to a request for comment said:

"Loot boxes are a voluntary feature in certain video games that provide players with another way to obtain virtual items that can be used to enhance their in-game experiences. They are not gambling. Depending on the game design, some loot boxes are earned and others can be purchased. In some games, they have elements that help a player progress through the video game. In others, they are optional features and are not required to progress or succeed in the game. In both cases, the gamer makes the decision."