Fortnite developers Epic Games have dodged all assertions of responsibility for the welfare of their playerbase in a hearing before a UK Parliament Select Committee investigating addiction-forming gaming habits.
Representatives of Electronic Arts and Epic Games have appeared before the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) Committee to give evidence in a hearing about 'immersive and addictive technologies.'
Matthew Weissinger, Director of Marketing, and Canon Pence, General Counsel at Epic Games, were probed on a range of topics from age verification to encouraging players to remain in the game.
Their testimony before the committee, chaired by Damian Collins, consisted mostly of explaining Fortnite's retention mechanics, such as sending push notifications and email marketing to lapsed players – those who haven't logged into the game for a period of time that Epic's counsel declined to disclose. Pence and Weissinger also explained how Fortnite's parental controls allowed chat options to be limited, but did not establish playtime restrictions.
However, in response to Collins' question of whether Epic feel they have a 'moral responsibility' to prevent players under the age of 13 from playing the game, spending large amounts of money or to manage the extended periods players spend in the game at the expense of health or social interaction, Canon Pence suggested they had none.
"For a PlayStation user, all those transactions go through PlayStation, same with Nintendo, same with Xbox," Pence said. "We don't own that account."
"I get that," replied DCMS Chairman Collins. "But you don't think you have any duty of care there at all, that should just be passed on and you should be absolved of that responsibility?"
Pence nodded. The DCMS committee failed to question further on whether Epic, as the platform holder themselves for 85 million Fortnite players who log in through the Epic Game Store launcher, would accept responsibility for age verification checks on PC.
Pence also fell afoul of committee member Ian Lucas on a line of questioning over Epic's obligations to follow data regulations. "You don't think it's necessary to abide by data regulations by establishing the age of the people who play your game?" asked Lucas, to which Pence replied: "We don't."
Electronic Arts' UK Country Manager Shaun Campbell and Kerry Hopkins, Vice President of Legal and Government Affairs, were asked several questions about the circumstances of their operation of "loot boxes" in the United Kingdom in light of the restrictions placed on the company for FIFA and Star Wars Battlefront 2 Star Card Crates in belgium.
Hopkins recoiled at the use of the word "loot boxes" and preferred instead to refer to them as "surprise mechanics" or "randomised content mechanics". Much of the committee continued to refer to the FUT Packs and Star Card Crates, which are bought for real money with in-game currency and provide a random selection of in-game items, as "loot boxes".
You can watch the totality of today's DCMS Committee hearing into immersive and addictive technologies here.