Gaming

Fortnite CEO explains why other games need to dump “ugly” loot boxes

by Isaac McIntyre
Forbes / Epic Games/ EA / Blizzard

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Fortnite has famously never had loot box mechanics tied to its battle royale store, despite boasting one of the world's biggest player bases, and now Epic boss Tim Sweeney has called for the rest of the industry to follow suit too.

Loot boxes have long been a hot topic in the gaming world. Global powerhouse franchises like EA’s FIFA series, as well as FPS titles like Overwatch and Apex Legends, have built their in-game purchases around random chance.

More and more games have been moving towards the “slot machine” style in recent times, but Epic’s helmsman Sweeney has warned a shift towards the “bad and the ugly” way of making profits in video games should be avoided “at all costs.”

Epic Games
Fortnite once had loot boxes in its Save the World game mode, but now the llamas just appear as in-game loot drops.

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According to Sweeney, who spoke about the hot topic during his keynote at the DICE Summit in Las Vegas, as reported by the Hollywood Reporter, the gaming industry is in a crunch-time moment, and needs to “get it right.”

“We have to ask ourselves, as an industry, what we want to be when we grow up? Do we want to be like Las Vegas, with slot machines ... or do we want to be widely respected as creators of products that customers can trust?” Sweeney said.

“We should be very reticent of creating an experience where the outcome can be influenced by spending money. Loot boxes play on all the mechanics of gambling except for the ability to get more money out in the end.”

EA Sports
EA's FIFA Ultimate Team packs have become one of the most infamous examples of the randomized loot boxes.

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He then pointed to Fortnite’s collaborations with pop-culture giants like Disney’s Star Wars and Marvel, and suggested that was “the future” when it came to making long-term profits. Basically, let hype around the game sell the game.

“The future of this is, if you have an awesome new product, you start releasing free stuff in games and people get [engaged with it],” he explained to the various gaming big-wigs gathered at the Aria Resort & Casino on Wednesday.

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He added that because games have become a social hub where “people meet daily,” the entertainment industry now has “special responsibilities” to the millions that log into their titles every day that devs “must take seriously.”

“We have businesses that profit by doing their customers harm,” he added.

Epic Games / Respawn / Blizzard / Infinity Ward
Sweeney believes it's time for the industry to move away from random drops as a way to profit from gamers.

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Sweeney’s call comes just a year after Epic hooked Loot Llamas from the battle royale’s less-popular cousin Save the World. Deemed to be “predatory” and “deceptive,” Fortnite devs made the call to change them entirely.

The Epic boss has also overseen the demolition of Rocket League’s extensive crate system, implementing item-specific ‘Blueprints’ after the Fortnite-famous company bought out title developers Psyonix in 2019.

His company isn’t the only one that has pulled the plug on the loot boxes in recent times either, with Bungie purging Destiny 2 of all random paid content after their Activision divorce, and Modern Warfare avoiding boxes from launch.

Vjeran Pavic for The Verge
Fortnite's top boss Tim Sweeney has become more outspoken on loot boxes in 2020.

Considering Fortnite is one of the global leaders when it comes to gaming, and they’re still making major profits—the title made a whopping $1.8 billion in 2019—many will be hoping Sweeney’s call can spark more movement on the topic.

If his words can’t, legal action may. Electronic Arts been pulled into a legal battle with two Parisian lawyers this month. The pair are arguing the sports sim’s Ultimate Team mode should be labeled as a form of gambling.

Whether or not that French legal action takes hold, or other titles strip loot boxes out of their online games, it’s clear a tide is turning: if Epic’s top boss is joining the fight, it may only be a matter of time before other companies join the exodus.