Epic “Don’t Make Money” from Fortnite and it’s Not “Necessary to Comply with Data Regulations and Laws”
In a fairly unequivocal response, the General Counsel of Epic Games, Canon Pence, actually stated that Epic Games need not comply with data regulation laws as they stand here in the UK and EU. This is an incredibly surprising bit of honesty from somebody working for a video games company and I imagine, with a bit of hindsight, one that Canon wishes he may have thought a little before answering.
Much like I covered when writing the piece regarding EA's part in giving evidence to the UK Parliament’s Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DMCS) committee, there's a lot to find in the response by Epic Games. Notably is the fact that Epic, like EA, had a horrible tendency to shirk off their responsibilities in age verification and the overall duty of care they have to their customers.
Epic Games and the Duty of Care
It's our intention to collect the minimal amount of player data that we need to provide the goods and services requested by that player. If you've got a player coming in through Sony, all of their account data and information goes through Sony, the purchases go through Sony. For us, we're really just seeing 'PlayStation player 10,000 is engaging in Fortnite in that way'.
If you're an Epic play, having an Epic account, we need less about you if you're just a free to play player and not paying any money than we would need if you're buying something in the store. At a high level, it's our view that we intend to collect the minimal amount and we don't believe that in Epic account servicing, we need age in order to deliver what is requested by the account holder.
In one of the most pointed questions at the whole hearing, this statement was followed up with the question "So you don't think it's necessary to comply with data regulations and laws by establishing the age of people who play your game?" The response and the incredibly surprising one by Canon Pence was:
That alone was a surprising statement and given alone would be bad enough. Later on, when pointedly stated by a member of the committee that the representatives of Epic Games that they "have said in your evidence today that you haven't even bothered to check whether there is any potential harm" and then followed up by also stating "You are allowing these children to have access without checking their age before they can access your game, you seem to be taking no responsibility, no duty of care at all".
Canon Pence responded and, like EA before him, attempted to lay the blame on other companies by saying:
If you're a PlayStation user, all of that transaction goes through PlayStation so they own the relationship with the user. It's the same with Nintendo, it's the same with Apple, it's the same with Xbox. We don't own that account, we don't own that payment.
I've defended Epic and the Epic Store more than enough, but there is no defence to these responses and the overall shirking of corporate responsibility both of these companies participated in. The blatant and admitted disregard towards regulations and law could also be one thing that comes back to haunt Epic Games and Canon Pence.
Fortnite and the Lack of Money - How do Epic Survive?
In a strange turn, early on in the session, there was a strange moment where Matthew Weissinger, the Director of Marketing for Epic Games, actually attempted to state that Epic Games don't actually make money from people playing the game. He specifically stated:
I would disagree with the statement that Epic makes money from people playing the games. The Battle Royale mode is free to play.
Now, how this is the case I would have to wonder. Yes, you pay for the Save the World version of the game, though to my knowledge Save the World doesn't exist on mobile platforms and last I checked, Epic Games earned revenue from Fortnite on mobile platforms. This would seemingly go against the assertion that Epic doesn't make money from people playing the game.
There were also many pointed questions as to the frequency of players, lapsed players and more. As could be expected, Epic wasn't very forthright in answering these questions and repeatedly backtracked on answers. At one point a frequent player was described as somebody who has played within the previous two weeks (14 days) or within the previous 30 days. Very shortly after, it was also stated that "It's difficult to define a frequent player".
From both companies, questions as to the length of time people are playing the games were avoided, with both companies stating they don't keep track of these metrics as well as questioning as to how long as actually too long on a video game.
Looking Further and More Discussions Next Week
Much as I have said in the piece regarding EA and their comments during the hearing, I found myself getting more infuriated with the questions by the blatantly uninformed and ignorant members of the DMCS committee. At one point, with respect to early access titles, a member of the committee actually asked:
If i were a drug company, developing a drug that may potentially do harm, I wouldn't be allowed to develop it like that. I wouldn't be able to put it out there in the marketplace and see how people reacted to it and then decide wether it was a good thing or not, without anyone questioning my motives on what I was doing. Why should we allow that to happen in gaming?
I don't like the current 'live service' model of games, releasing unfinished half-baked rubbish like Anthem, nor do I like early access titles that charge for extra content before finishing the game they've already been paid for. Still, I will say that Matthew Weissinger was more patient than me because I would have simply stated: "That's a stupid question".
You can watch the whole thing on the UK Parliament website here and you will see a number of witnesses from varying companies, covering loot boxes. These include:
- Shaun Campbell, UK Country Manager, Electronic Arts (EA)
- Kerry Hopkins, Vice President, Legal and Government Affairs, Electronic Arts (EA)
- Matthew Weissinger, Director of Marketing, Epic Games
- Canon Pence, General Counsel, Epic Games
In addition to this, the committee will also meet next Wednesday, with these witnesses from King, in an extensive look at Mobile games to "examine how microtransactions and other design mechanics are used by gaming companies and find out more about the interplay between games and social media platforms":
- Alex Dale, Senior Vice President, Head of Portfolio and New Games, King
- Adam Mitton, VP for Legal, King