Republican Senator Josh Hawley from Missouri has introduced a bill called the The Protecting Children from Abusive Games Act, which would prevent publishers from including loot boxes or pay-to-win microtransactions in games aimed at kids under the age of 18. Meaning that any game rated ‘E’ for Everyone up through ‘T’ for Teen would no longer be able to feature loot boxes or pay-to-win cash shops in mobile, home console, or PC games.
The Washington Post is reporting that the bill would prohibit publishers from aggressively targeting pay-to-win microtransactions and loot boxes at kids, with Senator Hawley stating…
““Social media and video games prey on user addiction, siphoning our kids’ attention from the real world and extracting profits from fostering compulsive habits,” Hawley said in a statement. “No matter this business model’s advantages to the tech industry, one thing is clear: There is no excuse for exploiting children through such practices.
“[…] When a game is designed for kids, game developers shouldn’t be allowed to monetize addiction. And when kids play games designed for adults, they should be walled off from compulsive microtransactions.”
There have been multiple studies and reports indicating that loot box mechanisms in games do operate very similar to traditional gambling mechanisms, and that many kids have already been exposed to loot boxes in some capacity when playing games.
Things came to a head when Electronic Arts tried to slyly include pay-to-win style loot boxes in Star Wars: Battlefront 2, which resulted in a huge backlash from gamers and parents, the latter of whom took the issue straight to the doorstep of both Disney and politicians.
Some politicians pontificated the issue with platitudes but it went nowhere. Belgium and the Netherlands led the charge in actually banning loot boxes in video games, prompting for more widespread action to be taken after publishers refused to comply with regional gambling laws or to curtail aggressive loot box implementations.
While traction to get anything done in the U.S., has been slow, the FTC is at least planning on holding a loot box workshop in August. Others like Hawley are being more aggressive with addressing the issue after publishers and U.S., ratings boards refused to more aggressively enforce the Adults Only rating for gambling mechanisms since they refused to classify loot boxes as gambling, despite the fact that the Washington State Gambling Commission classified loot boxes as gambling, and pressured Valve into shutting down loot box gambling rings for Counter-Strike: Global offensive.
Further to the point, much of the opposition to loot box regulation has come from the lobbyist group on behalf of publishers, the Entertainment Software Association, who has insisted that loot boxes aren’t gambling. In fact, Stanley Pierre-Louis, the ESA’s acting president, said in a statement to the press…
“Numerous countries, including Ireland, Germany, Sweden, Denmark, Australia, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom, determined that loot boxes do not constitute gambling. We look forward to sharing with the senator the tools and information the industry already provides that keeps the control of in-game spending in parents’ hands. Parents already have the ability to limit or prohibit in-game purchases with easy to use parental controls.”
What Pierre-Louis fails to mention is that 16 international gambling regulators are actually looking into the legality of premium loot boxes, that’s not to mention investigations from law enforcement, such as Finnish police looking into loot boxes as gambling mechanisms. Other regions, such as Victoria, Australia, have classified loot boxes as a form of gambling.
Hawley’s bill wouldn’t outright ban loot boxes, but it would prohibit publishers from pursuing loot boxes in games aimed at persons under the age of 18, along with pay-to-win microtransactions.
This would basically bring loot boxes more in line with standard regulations on gambling, which is something that publishers have been desperately trying to avoid in order to sell addictive monetary mechanisms to kids.
There have been increasing reports of kids using their parents’ credit cards to rack up thousands of dollars in microtransactions, oftentimes because kids don’t know that they’re spending real money on digital items. Other times kids get so entrapped in the spending loop that they steal their parent’s credit cards to make purchases. Facebook was even aware of this issue but refused to refund cases where kids over-spent on microtransactions using their parent’s credit cards. This was all part of a larger FTC investigation regarding privacy data, which culminated in potential fines of up to $5 billion, as reported by The Street.
Amazon was also on the receiving end of a similar investigation from the FTC, where they ruled that the company failed to provide proper and clear safeguards to prevent kids from being overcharged via microtransactions and loot boxes, as reported by Engadget.
Some people agree with the ESA that companies should be allowed to include loot boxes in all their games since they aren’t gambling mechanisms. A few claim that the government shouldn’t regulate gambling at all, and it should be legal regardless of age. Others believe that government regulation should stay out of gaming, and that publishers should be allowed to self-regulate, even if it means no regulation of loot boxes at all. Obviously, actual gambling regulators and now U.S. Senators don’t see eye to eye with the AnCap crowd and are seeking to curtail publishers from aggressively pursuing kids purposefully using gambling-style mechanisms in games aimed at children and young teens.
(Thanks for the news tip Casey Explosion)
(Main image courtesy of MonoriRogue)