Recent actions by video game publisher EA have brought to light just how scary it is that many of the industry's top companies have such a lax view of video game monetization, which has become a predatory practice that attacks consumers with addictive tendencies. We're not just in a position to actively interrogate this practice, but as consumers, we can also outright put a stop to it by refusing to engage with it, and it's becoming an increasingly urgent decision that needs to be made - will video game fans continue to support companies that clearly care very little about their well-being?
Perhaps that assertion seems a little over-the-top, but it will only seem that way to people who haven't closely followed the industry's trends over the last few years. We all know the negative impacts of loot boxes, and that knowledge has spread well beyond just video game enthusiasts, as several politicians are looking to get loot boxes banned after studies began suggesting that they were forming gambling habits in children. It's the extent to which these problems have become so ingrained in video games that is a point of issue now - it's hard to imagine a world in which AAA games don't include some sort of microtransaction.
EA has recently returned to the limelight thanks to a new controversy regarding the company's policy on loot boxes and microtransactions. During a public hearing, an EA representative referred to microtransactions as "surprise mechanics," attempting to distance the company away from a turn of phrase that is increasingly becoming a negative. Furthermore, EA apparently believes that its approach to these practices are "ethical" and "fun." Obviously, that's a problem when the concept has become inextricably tied to the idea that we are teaching our children to become gambling addicts.
Nowhere is it more obvious than in FIFA, where players are routinely encouraged to spend obscene amounts of money on card packs to help build their Ultimate Team and recruit their favorite players. It's deliberately exploitative, preying on the fact that fans interested in the game are likely involved because they have a player they idolize - one that would inevitably be an expensive and rare option in Ultimate Team. The problem is only deepened by the fact that FIFA's loot box mechanic features abysmal gambling odds, with players extremely unlikely to find the players they want without spending some serious cash to do so. Not that it really needs pointing out but FIFA is, of course, one of EA's biggest game franchises.
Recently, Jim Sterling of Jimquisition fame published a YouTube video that went into greater depth about how vile these practices really are, and that sentiment deserves to be echoed wherever it can be read or heard. Preying on people who are not mentally well - those who are either predisposed to be more likely to develop addictions, or those who are already suffering or recovering from them - is wrong. The fact that the video game industry has some companies like EA visibly celebrating the fact that they've built a system where they are allowed to get away with it is outright disgusting. There should be no chance whatsoever that a child could develop life-altering negative behaviors from a system that isn't intrinsic or important to a video game's play values. We're taking too many liberties with the mental health of video game fans - especially now that we've finally recognized video game addiction as a real and potentially debilitating mental health disorder.
The stigma surrounding mental health in video games is one that has lagged behind the rest of the world's progress in recent years, culminating in the tragic loss of one of YouTube's brightest stars last month. Video game monetization is an increasingly greedy, insensitive, and dangerous cash grab from developers and publishers who undervalue the consumer's well-being if it means that the bottom line is higher. As consumers, then, it's our job to speak with the only thing that will apparently be listened to in our wallets, stop supporting these practices, and help those who are already affected feel like they have a resource system to recover. Video games have the potential to be an exceptional positive in people's lives, but as long as microtransactions and loot boxes continue to remain popular, that potential is being cruelly and unfairly held back.