In Depth

Why Fortnite and EA titles are under scrutiny from MPs

The grilling comes after Prince Harry claimed that Fornite was ‘created to addict’

Fortnite is back in the headlines again after the game’s executives were quizzed by MPs on Wednesday over what measures were being taken to protect young players online. 

Representatives from Epic Games, the American studio behind Fortnite, appeared before the House of Commons’s Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) committee as part of the Government’s inquiry into “immersive and addictive technologies,” The Guardian reports. 

Electronic Arts (EA) executives were also present at the hearing, the newspaper says. The US-based company is the publisher of the hugely popular Fifa series, as well as Star Wars Battlefront II and the Battlefield franchise. 

Representatives from both firms were quizzed over Prince Harry’s claims that the game is addictive. Back in April, the Duke of Sussex said that Fortnite “shouldn’t be allowed.”

He said: “It’s created to addict, an addiction to keep you in front of a computer for as long as possible. It’s so irresponsible.”

Epic Games’s legal counsel, Canon Pence, said the studio’s staff had been “quite taken aback” by the Duke of Sussex’s comments, the London Evening Standard reports.

Pence told the committee that the statements “couldn’t be further from the truth,” and spoke of the firm’s “healthy and sustainable approach.”

Why are Fortnite and other online games under the spotlight?

Due to the rising number of games that charge players for in-game items. Fortnite, a free-to-play online game that pits up to 100 players against each other until one remains, has come under “intense scrutiny” from both gamers and critics over concerns that children spend “an unhealthy amount of time and money on them”, The Guardian says. 

According to GamesRadar, the game has amassed a player base of 250 million as of March, with an average concurrent user count of 900,000 people on the Steam gaming platform alone. As Fortnite is also available on consoles and mobiles, the total number of users playing it at once will be significantly higher. 

Last year, a survey of Fortnite users in the US revealed that, out of the 1,000 respondents, 13.1% admitted to playing between 16 to 20 hours per week, PC Magazine reports. Around 7.7% claimed that they played over 21 hours of the game every week. The survey was conducted by the financial services company Lendedu.

Of the respondents in high school or university, 20.5% said they bunked off class to play Fortnite, while 14.6% admitted that they skipped “a lot” of their schooling to play the game, the magazine reports. 

Although playing the game is free, users can spend real-world money in order to buy in-game items such as new outfits and characters. 

The Lendedu study revealed that the average Fortnite player, including the 30% of players who don’t pay any money, spends around $58.25 (£45.89) on in-game items, says Quartz. This is about the same amount as players spend on conventional console games. 

But that figure rises to $84.67 (£66.70) when the 30% of players who don’t pay for items are taken out of the equation, says the news site.

Epic Games isn’t the only developer under scrutiny, however.

EA came under fire in 2017 prior to the launch of its multiplayer shooter Star Wars Battlefront II when reviewers discovered that players who paid real-world money would gain advantage over non-paying gamers in online matches.

Unlike Fortnite, Battlefront II is not a free-to-play game. EA was quick to react to critics, swiftly removing its so-called “pay-to-win” mechanics ahead of the game’s launch, but the controversy prompted a global investigation into in-game spending and addiction. 

What was said during the hearing?

Conservative MP Damian Collins, who is head of the DCMS, said that Pence’s claims that Epic Games doesn’t track the amount of money its users spend was “extraordinary”, the BBC reports. 

When Collins asked the firms’s representatives whether they collected data on how much time gamers spent playing the game, they said no such information was recorded, the broadcaster adds.

“I don’t believe that you don’t know this information and to me it arouses suspicion that this isn’t something you can discuss”, he said.

Another Tory MP, Simon Hart, was concerned that Epic Games had failed to commission an independent researcher to evaluate whether young players were developing compulsive habits. 

Epic Games stood its ground during the hearing, however. “We don’t think our game is addictive,” said the firm’s marketing chief Matt Weissinger.

Meanwhile, EA’s legal vice president, Kerry Hopkins, told the council that some companies in the industry were uncomfortable with collecting user data. The American video game publisher does, however, ask players to confirm their age before they begin playing, the BBC reports.  

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