Brendan SinclairManaging EditorFriday 12th March 2021Share this article Recommend Tweet ShareLast week we said some nice things about Electronic Arts in this space, so in the interest of balanced reporting, this week we’ll talk about loot boxes. There was a scandal in the FIFA Ultimate Team fandom this week as people on social media began passing around screen captures of chats and videos that purportedly show an EA employee trying to sell rare Ultimate Team cards to players for hundreds or even thousands of euros. (It’s unclear how rare those cards are — EA only tells people it’s a less than 1% chance — so it’s difficult to know if those could actually be considered fair prices.)Player outrage over the reports gained enough traction that EA released a statement saying it had begun “a thorough investigation” and would “take swift action” if it finds any improper conduct by its employees. It also had this line:QUOTE | “We want to be clear — this type of behavior is unacceptable, and we in no way condone what is alleged to have happened here. We understand how this creates concern about unfair balance in the game and competition.” — EA, in its very serious comment about this very serious scandal.If we take the statement at face value, EA is worried about “unfair balance in the game and competition,” which is an odd position to hold when you’re the one who created the Ultimate Team business model specifically so that players who threw obscene amounts of money into the game would have a significant competitive edge over those who didn’t.I understand why they would object to the aforementioned obscene amounts of money lining an employee’s pockets rather than the company coffers, but that’s the sort of objection you probably take care of in private rather than touting it to the masses as evidence of your pay-to-win game’s competitive balance.The company may also be reluctant to call it embezzlement or anything like that, as EA’s go-to defense for why loot boxes don’t count as illegal gambling is that virtual currency and items are not “things of value” as described in gambling laws. (Incidentally, that defense doesn’t seem to be very effective; it failed EA in the Netherlands and Big Fish Casino in a Washington court case.)Maybe EA is opposed to it because it doesn’t want its players getting scammed. I mean, it would be tragic if somebody spent a small fortune to get these rare cards but never actually received them. And by “tragic,” of course I mean, “FIFA Ultimate Team’s actual business model working exactly as intended.”Perhaps EA is just philosophically opposed to one-time transactions where the customer knows exactly what they’re buying, how much it will cost them, and won’t be bugged incessantly to buy piecemeal add-ons to complete the experience.One objection I can see here is that this supposed employee seller is dealing with people one-to-one through social media and direct messages. It’s simply not scalable in the way EA would need the business to be in order to service the entire Ultimate Team player base. This is where the actual competitive advantage comes in; only those players with access to this mystery dealer would be able to load their teams up with the best-of-the-best cards on demand. The rest of the field would have to keep sinking money (and time) into opening packs and hoping to come across these exceedingly rare cards, the way EA has always intended.EA could, of course, add the option to buy individual cards for hundreds or thousands of dollars. And some people would, of course, pay those prices. But EA won’t start doing that, because it makes the entire sordid business entirely too transparent. Charging people €1,700 for three cards so they can have a competitive edge is outrageous. Obscene. Exploitative. And it would be called out as such by parents, the press, and possibly even politicians. On the other hand, allowing people to spend €1,700 (or more) to get the three cards they want by gambling away a few bucks at a time, all without disclosing exactly how rotten the odds of getting those cards are… That’s just good old-fashioned innovation.STAT | $1.49 billion — EA’s net revenues from Ultimate Team modes in 2020 (about 27% of all the publisher’s revenue), according to EA’s annual report. STAT | $15 billion — Juniper Research’s projection of how much loot boxes worldwide generated in 2020, which would make EA representative of 10% of the entire market.STAT | $53.9 billion — The size of the worldwide console market in 2020, according to Ampere Analysis.QUOTE | “One of my favourite writers told me that she runs to have something she hates more than writing.” — Failbetter Games narrative designer Olivia Wood is just one of the professionals offering sage-like advice in this Academy primer for people interested in breaking into games writing.QUOTE | “We’re still in the nascent stages of the industry. All players will make mistakes along the way, ourselves included. But beyond any hurdles, this rapid trend demonstrates the tech industry’s confidence in cloud streaming.” — We asked remaining players in the game streaming market about the impact of Stadia Games and Entertainment’s closure, and Blade executive Florian Giraud was not alone in his optimism.QUOTE | “Shadow became a victim of its success.” — Shortly after we spoke with Giraud, Blade’s US arm filed for bankruptcy and its Parisian operation began receivership proceedings. This quote is from a statement Blade released saying it’s reorganizing to unload debt and keep its streaming game service afloat. It did not explain how exactly the company was victimized by its success.QUOTE | “If you’re an Xbox customer, the thing I want you to know is this is about delivering great exclusive games for you that ship on platforms where Game Pass exists.” — Now that Microsoft’s acquisition of ZeniMax has closed, Xbox head Phil Spencer is pretty blunt about his motivations in the deal.Related JobsEnvironment Artists – New IP South East Creative AssemblyLead Sound Designer South East Creative AssemblyRemote Environment Artist Console Studio UK UK & Europe Big PlanetDiscover more jobs in games QUOTE | “This deal was not done to take games away from another player base like that.” – Spencer striking a very different tone last October, before regulators who could raise antitrust concerns had signed off on the acquisition.QUOTE | “The committee will continue to focus on identifying actions that can transform GameStop into a technology business and help create enduring value for stockholders.” — In touting its newly formed Strategic Planning and Capital Allocation Committee, GameStop neglected to explain what a technology business is, why it doesn’t qualify as one currently, or what it will change in order to become one.QUOTE | “…a pragmatic necessity…” — 10 years ago this month, Insomniac Games chief creative officer Brian Hastings breaks the news that the company is opening a division to make mobile games using a tone typically reserved for layoffs and studio closures. Read the column; it made more sense in the context of what was a very tense time for the industry.
PHILADELPHIA — A woman in the news late last week because she was the first woman promoted to Philadelphia Fire Chief is back in the news. This time, she is making headlines for saving a life at the Philadelphia Marathon.Check out the rest of the story.
Clive Owen and Jin Ha in M. Butterfly (Photo by Matthew Murphy) Julie Taymor and Paul Wontorek (Photo by Caitlin McNaney) Julie Taymor and Elliot Goldenthal (Photo by Emilio Madrid-Kuser) It’s no secret that Tony-winning director Julie Taymor is a visionary icon. The talented creator is having a major moment: The Lion King, Broadway’s box office bursting king of the jungle that earned her two Tony Awards in 1998, celebrated its 20th anniversary on the Great White Way on November 13. She is at the helm of a resplendent revival of David Henry Hwang’s M. Butterfly, currently playing at the Cort Theatre. Taymor shows no signs of stopping her creative streak. Hear all about her days as a traveler full of wanderlust before hitting it big in show business, why she’s beyond ready to bring Across the Universe to Broadway and more on this week’s Show People with Paul Wontorek. The Lion King ON BRINGING M. BUTTERFLY BACK TO THE BOARDS“Since David Henry Hwang wrote the play, all of this information about the true story came out after the original production. In the original script, it’s a huge secret: that this is what appears to be a Chinese diva, female opera singer, who at the end turns out to be a guy. That’s what the original production was about more than anything. That doesn’t shock today. It doesn’t feel like that is the most important thing in their story. In the original story, it’s much more gender fluid, which felt so much more contemporary. Our shock is really about the love story. I find it equally if not more so shocking to see how these two people have to navigate being truly in love with each other in such an unusual situation, this kind of love that cannot be named.”ON THE ILLUSION OF SONG LILING“I saw M. Butterfly with my parents 30 years ago. We sat in the front of the mezzanine. I knew [the secret.] It wasn’t a big shock for me. And my mother knew but my father didn’t so we’re looking over and watching him discover the truth about this diva at the same time [the character of] Gallimard does. When you’re in the front mezzanine, the illusion can really work! We’ve had people at this M. Butterfly… I remember during previews, a film producer I know came up to me during intermission and said, ‘Oh, she’s glorious. Oh my God and that husky beautiful voice. Just transcendent!’ And that’s a tribute to Jin Ha.” Interview is edited and condensed for clarity. Julie Taymor on Show People with Paul Wontorek ON BEING “HAPPILY UNMARRIED”“[I’ve been with Elliot Goldenthal] for over 30 years. ‘Happily unmarried,’ as they say. He did the score to M. Butterfly with Puccini, so you’ve got Puccini, from Madame Butterfly, and then Elliot literally had to write Chinese opera. He’s done all my movies, most of my theater. I met him through work. We worked together for five years. It was…’What?! Who’s that?’ Our relationship working together is so vital and exciting and sexy because that’s how we fell in love. We’re creative soulmates.”ON GETTING ACROSS THE UNIVERSE TO THE GREAT WHITE WAY“As of last week, it was happening! If we went straight to Broadway, it could’ve happened 10 years ago, but we want to create it in a different kind of theater. I did have a good meeting last week. I’m not going to say with who because I don’t want to jinx it. That piece, like M. Butterfly, has the love story but is also extremely political. It’s about how young people must take responsibility. Get off their chairs and their couches and out of their iPads and iPhones and take charge. If you don’t like what’s happening to the world, you better change it. It doesn’t matter that it’s set in the Vietnam War. It’s about young people for all time, across the universe and these songs transcend time. I’ve wanted it for so many years. Hopefully in the next two years, we finally get to see Across the Universe onstage.” ON RETEAMING WITH DISNEY”We started to work on Pinocchio years ago which I still would be interested in but there was a difference of opinion as they say for how close it should be to the Disney movie version or how could it should be to the [Carlo] Collodi original book. I probably wanted to go more toward the Collodi [route] so we never really continued on that one. But there are other [Disney properties] that I think would be fun to do.”ON HER WORLDY CHILDHOOD“In those days, nobody had fear. I was probably nine, 10, 11, and I would take the T from the suburbs into Boston, and what was fantastic about being a part of Boston Children’s Theatre is that the kids came from all over. In the suburbs, you’re with people who live in the suburbs. In Boston, I met kids of all different races. It was much more diverse. It really started my wanderlust, which is to take myself out of my own comfortable environment and put myself into the place that challenge me and meet people who are different from I am.” Learn more about Across the Universe’s Broadway status here, and watch the full episode of Show People with Paul Wontorek below! Here are some must-read highlights:ON STORYTELLING FOR THE STAGE IN THE LION KING“[When I started work on The Lion King], I thought, ‘I’m going do what I know is the origin of theater.’ [The iconic sun is] just fabric and bamboo. When it gets pulled up and rises, the audiences sees the mechanics of it. They are going to be moved in a very poetic, spiritual way because of its obviousness. Now, people would think it would be the reverse. They would think that if you show the magic, it would lose its depth, but it isn’t that way because everything about playing and creating theater from the beginning of time is about the suspension of disbelief. I think that’s the soul of the show on a visual level. I think that’s the beauty of the work. I guess I’m remembering the simplicity of why theater works is always important. I don’t ever use techniques unless I feel like it’s absolutely essential to the story telling.”ON LOSING HER FATHER”My father never got to see The Lion King. He went into the hospital the day it opened. It was the best of times, the worst of times. And I didn’t know until my mother sat down and there was an empty seat. Tsidii Le Loka started to sing and I said, ‘Where is he?’ And she said, ‘Don’t worry.’ He never got out of the hospital. He died that year.” View Comments