Does Disney Have a Gambling Problem?

After axing Playtech’s Marvel slots, Disney faces a new moral dilemma with the release of EA-developed video game Star Wars Battlefront II.

The controversy involves the game’s loot crate digital rewards system, which some fans and critics claim is a form of online gambling. Battlefront II rewards players with loot items during gameplay. The items come in virtual crates, and the contents are randomised.

A meme that has be circulating on social media criticising Disney's Star Wars Battlefront II.

A meme that has be circulating on social media criticising Disney’s Star Wars Battlefront II.©Twitter.

However, loot crates can also be purchased via microtransactions. Players can convert real currency into in-game credit before using it to buy loot crates. Because it is impossible to know what crates will contain, players are buying blind, hoping to get lucky. There is an element of risk involved. It is, essentially, a gamble.

Micro-transactions are common in modern video games, and several other Electronic Arts (EA) titles feature similar mechanics. The popular FIFA football game series also features a system where gamers can buy randomised packs for real pounds in the hope of landing a Messi or a Ronaldo. Of course, the best players are rare, and more often than not you end up with Gabby Agbonlahor.

The issue for Disney is that, having set a precedent with the cancellation of all the Marvel licences for Playtech slots following the purchase of the Marvel Entertainment for £2.5 billion in 2009, does the company now run the risk of hypocrisy by licensing its Star Wars brand to EA?

A meme has been circulating on social media since this week accusing Disney of promoting gambling to children. The image compares Star Wars Battlefront II’s loot crate system to an online slot machine.

An EA Spokesperson told Fortune: “A player’s ability to succeed in the game is not dependent on purchasing crates. Players can also earn crates through playing the game and not spending any money at all. Once obtained, players are always guaranteed to receive content that can be used in game.”

EA has also previously claimed that purchasing in-game items with real-world currency requires a credit card, and thus anyone able to do so should already be old enough to legally gamble in the United Kingdom.

The Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB), which regulated the industry, ruled in October that it didn’t consider loot crates to be a form of gambling, comparing it to an online version of collectable card games, but the issue with Star Wars Battlefront II is Disney’s previous moral standing.

John Wasilczyk, the game’s executive producer at DICE, an arm of EA, said that his team would continue to adjust the loot crate system.

I think this concern has come through loud and clear John Wasilczyk: Star Wars Battlefront II executive producer

Stars Wars Battlefront II is released internationally on PlayStation 4, Xbox One and PC on Friday 17th November 2017.

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Star Wars Battlefront II box art by Electronic Arts

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