US Lawmaker Says Games With Gambling Mechanisms Should Be Banned.
A law should be in place in the United States to block the sale of games with “gambling mechanisms” to minors, according Hawaii state representative Chris Lee. In a YouTube video uploaded on December 5, Lee and his bill-writing partners talked about why the politician wants to take action against such games in the wake of the Star Wars: Battlefront II loot box controversy.
Lee provided the example of buying an in-game sword for $200. He’s not going after games that offer items for a set price; instead, he is taking issue when players spend real money for only a chance at getting the sword (or whatever other item it might be). He suggests this is a form of gambling, and minor is defined as someone under the age of 21.
Lee also expresses concern about game publishers who adjust the odds of various items dropping in loot boxes in order to take advantage of people who really want them. He acknowledges that his information is third-hand and unverified (and I’ve only ever heard of the opposite happening, in the form of “pity timers” that increase the odds of a good drop the longer a person goes without one), but nonetheless does a pretty good job of making it sound like an all-but-established fact.
“Once the algorithm identifies a player who’s likely to keep spending money to buy that one ‘unicorn thing’ that they’re after … then they lower the odds and then you keep spending more,” he says in the video. “It’s absolutely unethical and unfair.”
As a result, he’s also seeking an “accountability piece” of legislation to ensure that behind-the-scenes drop-rate shenanigans doesn’t happen, which would presumably require publishers to reveal loot box drop rates odds—something similar to the step taken late last year by China.
The YouTube listing calls on supporters to write their elected officials and “ask them to consider taking action to protect local families and particularly underage youth from predatory gaming practices.” It also includes a link to a “Predatory Gaming Letter” template, for people not comfortable crafting their own, which unsurprisingly portrays the issue in a rather alarming light.
“Loot box game mechanisms are often styled to literally resemble slot machines, and are made available to anyone in games on their mobile phones, consoles such as the X-Box, Playstation, and on home computers. This may explain why the American Psychological Association has identified ‘Internet Gaming Disorder‘ as an emerging diagnosis which warrants further study in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5),” the letter states.
“Unlike carnival games, collecting cards, or similar purchases of chance, videogames require active, lengthy participation during which consumers are exposed to psychological manipulation techniques which can result in real addiction and harm. The scale and ease of access to these games make addressing these concerns critical. Casinos have long been criticized for building a business model around the exploitation of psychological vulnerabilities in many people. These business models are now being replicated by the online gaming industry to do the same, right on the phones and in the homes of countless families around the country.”
In the wake of the recent loot box blowup there has been some call for the game industry to regulate itself in order to avoid government involvement. But Lee’s template seems to reject that proposition outright.
“Game developers in the gaming industry are represented by their trade group, the Entertainment Software Association (ESA). In 1994 the ESA created the Entertainment Software Ratings Board (ESRB) to provide videogame ratings for consumers,” the letter says. “Unsurprisingly, the ESA and ESRB have taken a position defending the lucrative revenue streams generated by these predatory mechanisms, claiming that predatory loot boxes do not fall under the current definition of gambling.”
Obviously there’s a tremendous gap between a YouTube video and actual legislative action, but Lee and his team certainly appear to be giving the matter a serious push. Depending how you feel about government intervention in media, and your hopes for differentiating between “good” and “bad” loot boxes, that’s either encouraging news, or it really is not.