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Prince Harry, Kinder Eggs, 'surprise mechanics' and porn: the UK's ok

Prince Harry, Kinder Eggs, 'surprise mechanics' and porn: the UK's ok

Surprise has been on my mind lately. Particularly when I think of the UK, a nation to which I am, by the grace of God or some other mischievous spirit, bound to by birthright. Lately, the British establishment has taken a break from Brexit and the horror show of its leadership and turned its attention to entertainments much beloved by teenagers: video games and pornography. And yes, there are surprises of the "what the hell" variety, and the "video game loot boxes are the same as Kinder Eggs" kind...

Of course, more mature people can enjoy gaming and pornography as much as they like, rather the authorities are thinking about the teens, and the potential harm these entertainments can cause them. The solution proposed in the case of the latter would have been to force age verification for everyone trying to watch adult material online. Part of this involved purchasing porn passes at a physical store.

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No sex please, we're British. / © AndroidPIT

The whole thing an impractical, embarrassing privacy nightmare from a technical and social standpoint, as pointed out by many tech experts including my own colleague David. Now, it seems that the porn block has been delayed, thanks to the bureaucratic technicalities of the European Union. An impossible to execute ill-conceived idea to buck the EU gets stuck in the mud forever? Quelle surprise.

Surprise! It's a loot box!

Then there's video games, a fairy tale of a concerned Prince, a magic egg and the mysterious illusionist who, with a wave of a wand *poof!* transforms loot boxes into something altogether, totally different! Being a royal doesn't have the perks it used to, but it still kind of forces your subjects to take your opinion seriously, and when earlier this year Prince Harry voiced concerns that Fortnite was "more addictive than drugs and alcohol" and said that it should be banned from the UK. Clearly there was going to be a reckoning.

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Fortnite is free to play rakes in millions through microtransactions for cosmetic items. / © AndroidPIT

Representatives from EA and Epic Games met with the UK Parliament's Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee. MPs grilled the company spokespeople over "addictive and immersive technologies" and make their case for both the addictive mechanics and loot box 'micro' transactions in games. And yes, Epic had to answer to the Prince's concerns. Much like with the porn ban, the subject of age verification came up too. The whole long, boring affair of clueless MPs and corporate mouthpieces awkwardly dancing around each other can be watched here, if you hate yourself.

Let's be clear. Addiction and compulsive playing or 'engagement' and 'user retention' are absolutely built into live service games by design, and this is aimed at funneling people into the games marketplaces to encourage repeat spending. That's a real phenomenon that I've criticized before, and does bear further investigation and discussion, and it should not be confused with a game just being enjoyed for a long time by a kid whose parents would rather they played football outside or studied more. But, much like when Mark Zuckerberg appeared before Congress, the MPs lack of awareness and familiarity with the discussion often meant that the whole thing went nowhere.

You'd expect the reps of the game companies, being experts in their field, to come off pretty savvy here. But the surprises keep on coming. The prize for a particularly clumsy sleight of hand goes to EA, famous for pushing their luck with loot boxes too far in Star Wars Battlefront II. You see, EA doesn't believe in loot boxes. Instead, they have "surprise mechanics" which are "ethical and fun". I wonder if Kerry Hopkins, EA's VP of legal and government affairs, ever enjoyed a nice side of freedom fries with her burger back in the early 2000s.

"If you go to a store that sells a lot of toys and you do a search for surprise toys, what you'll find is that this is something that people enjoy—they enjoy surprises," said Hopkins, "And so it's something that's been part of toys for years, whether it's Kinder Eggs or Hatchimals or LOL Surprise."

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The game industry won't give up this source of cash so easily. / © AndroidPIT

There you go. Remember the one player who spent over $10,000 on FIFA (published by EA) loot boxes in 2 years? Just like we all do on Kinder Eggs sometimes. Adults can spend whatever they like on their entertainment, within state restrictions on gambling, but when you compare loot boxes (sorry, surprise mechanics) that can generate money on such scale to treats for kids, you don't help your case that the practice is safe for minors.

EA's contortions aside, Epic Games also did a remarkable amount of dodging attacks that would make any Fortnite pro gamer proud. Despite repeated questioning, the company refused to give details on the age demographics of their userbase, and just how much people are spending on the game. No surprises there.

The UK is moving away from the EU, but it may still have a few things to learn from its neighbors when it comes to sex, games and royalty. Over on the continent, some countries have banned loot boxes, and some have banned hereditary monarchy. Who says you can't have it all?

Source: PC Gamer

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