Eurogamer's Wesley Yin-Poole today had what he termed “The Big Interview” with Electronic Arts Chief Experience Officer Chris Bruzzo regarding FIFA, and it looks like nothing was off the table – especially FIFA Ultimate Team (FUT) and its controversial player packs/loot boxes. Bruzzo at times even challenged Yin-Poole to ask him the tough questions, and he obliged, drawing ready-made corporate-speak answers that left me, and the comments section by the look of it, shaking our heads in disbelief.
To be fair to Bruzzo, he did bring up several worthy points. Notably, he described some of the things EA has done to limit egregious spending on FUT packs, which made me think of efforts that tobacco and alcohol producers, as well as casinos, have taken to see that their products are used responsibly and legally. Even if every possible safeguard is in place, there will be some who seek to dodge them to get their fix, and there's only so much the maker of such products can do to prevent that.
Of course, the simple fact that we're comparing loot boxes to vices like tobacco, alcohol, and gambling should come up as a red flag. And for the most part, Bruzzo deflects Yin-Poole's most pressing inquiries as deftly as Wonder Woman using her bracelets. Yin-Poole pushes back on most points, the most egregious dodges of which I'll also cover in greater detail.
First, Yin-Poole asked Bruzzo about why loot boxes were taken out of Star Wars Battlefront 2, after the huge backlash against their initial inclusion, but are still included in FIFA. Bruzzo tried to paint the two series as “entirely different game[s] with a different set of decisions and different circumstances.” Those “different circumstances” were that SWBF2's abuse of loot boxes blew up in EA's face, while the company has yet to face a similar degree of backlash to their inclusion in FIFA. That's it. It's not some high-minded design decision based on the types of games or their genre or anything like that. Without that backlash in 2017, SWBF2 would still have loot boxes, period.
To me, however, the most offensive of Bruzzo's claims was his insistence that hateful comments about FUT are direct toward base-level programmers and gameplay designers. Despite Yin-Poole, and the top-most comments, claiming otherwise – that such decisions are made by people in Bruzzo's position and thus the “vitriol” is directed at them and not the programmers – Bruzzo sticks to his guns that the FIFA team as a whole is a singular, integrated entity and that “there's not a real distinction” between the programmers and the executives.
It might be true that those programmers do read the mean comments about the game they devote their lives to, that they've made a career out of, and feel bad about reading them. If so, however, that's not their fault; if anyone, it's the fault of Bruzzo and his executive team for the high-level decisions they make regarding the game and its monetization. There are two ways to address that: Either convince people to stop leaving those kind of comments, or change your game so that people won't make those kinds of comments. Guess which path Bruzzo chose.
Bruzzo's go-to talking point throughout the interview was his claim that “nine out of 10 FUT packs that are opened in FIFA are opened with coins. Coins are earned by playing the game. That's not real-world money.” He mentioned it five times, to try and drive home what he believes is a knockout blow to any argument against their inclusion, alongside the usual talking points we've heard before: They're not gambling, you can't “cash out” (legally), and, as previously mentioned, EA has taken some steps to keep players from spending too much.
And again, I go back to comparing FUT packs to those other vices. If only one out of 10 FUT players pays real money for packs, how many of those players spend too much? One out of 100? Out of 1,000? Out of 10,000? You can make the claim that those cases are outliers, and maybe say that the vast majority of more restrained players shouldn't be punished for the transgressions of a few, but the vast majority of people drink or gamble responsibly too, and yet the dangers of their abuse are significant enough for there to be strict regulations regarding their usage. Clearly, we need to see how many don't purchase loot boxes responsibly, and whether it's a significant enough social issue to warrant further measures be taken, but it also shouldn't be dismissed out of hand with a single statistic.
Yin-Poole also brought up the most basic fact about FUT – that spending on it lets you buy gameplay-affecting items, in the form of players. Bruzzo responds to that by saying that's “Just like real world football.” Yin-Poole immediately followed up by saying that it's not the same, because real teams don't spend millions and hope to get a random player a la loot boxes – they purchase the exact player they want.
Bruzzo's response? “Let me be very very clear about this point: nine out of 10 FUT packs that are opened in FIFA are opened with coins.” In other words, when his argument was rendered completely invalid, he ignored it and went back to his top talking point, which was probably scribbled on a notepad in front of him with big letters nearby that read “MAKE SURE TO MENTION THIS.”
The final key point that Yin-Poole brought up was that, of course, EA's own financial statements have repeatedly said that FUT is a major part of their revenue and that “government legislation may significantly impact the business.” So despite Bruzzo's attempts to downplay how important FUT's packs are in a monetary sense for players, they're very important to EA's bottom line and the company will do virtually anything to present them in a good light – or at least attempt to, which was probably the (failed) intent of this interview.
About the Author
Jason Winter is a veteran gaming journalist, he brings a wide range of experience to MMOBomb, including two years with Beckett Media where he served as the editor of the leading gaming magazine Massive Online Gamer. He has also written professionally for several gaming websites.More Stories by Jason Winter