Hawaii Proposing Four New Bills On Loot Box Regulation.
Hawaii representative Chris Lee has made some progress on his crusade against loot boxes, originally vilifying EA’s Star Wars Battlefront II as a ‘Star Wars-themed online casino’ because of the practice. The legislator has now proposed four new bills in hopes of prompting transparency in the gaming industry as well as an age restriction on games housing loot crates.
Two bills in Hawaii’s state house and senate would prohibit sales of loot box games to consumers younger than 21 years old. The legislation defines the loot boxes as a randomized in-game reward that can be bought for real money.
Another two bills, also before both chambers, would require video game publishers to label their games with notices that they contain loot boxes, and disclose what the rates are of receiving each reward in their system.
Loot boxes or loot crates caught the attention not only of lawmakers in Hawaii and Washington state, but also regulators in Belgium, the United Kingdom and New Zealand, mainly when Star Wars Battlefront 2 launched in November. U.K. and New Zealand officials ultimately said loot crates did not fit their nations’ statutory definition of gambling.
Loot crates are part of other big name games, including Middle-earth: Shadow of War, which launched before Battlefront 2, and Call of Duty: WWII. But the outcry against their prevalence in Battlefront 2’s main modes of play, plus Star Wars’ visibility a month before a big movie premiere, made it a mainstream controversy.
Indeed, at a news conference in November, Hawaii state Rep. Sean Quinlan noted that loot crates had been a feature of mobile gaming for some time, but their encroachment on AAA console gaming made them a greater concern, especially for parents.
The outcry has been so strong that Electronic Arts pulled the sale of an in-game currency (to acquire loot boxes) the day before Battlefront 2’s formal launch. (Xbox One and Windows PC users subscribing to the EA or Origin Access services had been able to play it in a weeklong sneak preview.) Real-money sales have still not returned to Battlefront 2. In a call with investors at the end of January, EA reported lower-than-expected sales of Battlefront 2 and lower revenues from the game than had been projected. EA has said that real-money transactions will return to Battlefront 2 at some point but has given no timeframe.
Electronic Arts has declined to comment on legislative efforts involving loot crate systems. The Entertainment Software Association, the industry’s United States lobbyist, released a statement in November saying that loot boxes “are a voluntary feature in certain video games,” and “they are not gambling.”
The bill’s principal sponsor in the state house, Rep. Chris Lee of Oahu, had harsh words in reply.
“I grew up playing games my whole life,” Lee told the Hawaii Tribune-Herald of Oahu yesterday. “I’ve watched firsthand the evolution of the industry from one that seeks to create new things to one that’s begun to exploit people, especially children, to maximize profit.”
“It’s a $30 billion industry. It’s bigger than Hollywood. It’s an industry that can reach into everyone’s pockets and phones and consoles and PCs, but there’s no authority to force them to disclose their practices,” concludes Lee. “If enough of the market reacts, the industry would have to respond and change its practices.”