US Senator Introduces Bill To Ban Loot Boxes And Pay To Win Mechanics
A federal lawmaker wants to introduce legislation that would ban “pay to win” practices and “loot boxes” from all video games. In a statement released Wednesday, Sen. Josh Hawley, a Republican representing Missouri, said video games offering these systems are preying on user addiction, particularly among children.
The bill is called “The Protecting Children from Abusive Games Act.”
“When a game is designed for kids, game developers shouldn’t be allowed to monetize addiction,” Hawley said. “And when kids play games designed for adults, they should be walled off from compulsive microtransactions. Game developers who knowingly exploit children should face legal consequences.”
The main goals of this bill are as follows, per Senator Hawley’s release:
- Games targeted at those under the age of 18.
- This would be determined by subject matter, visual content, and other indicators similar to those used to determine applicability of the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA)
- Games with wider audiences whose developers knowingly allow minor players to engage in microtransactions
Call of Duty is rated Mature game meant for players 17 years or older in US, but this bill is broad to target against games that have “pay to win” style microtransactions. Activision’s Call of Duty could be affected, but there’s no indication for that as of now.
This ban would affect other games across the industry like Blizzard’s Overwatch, EA titles like FIFA, Apex, and even some ways Fortnite’s Save the World mode.
In a press release, Senator Hawley gave an example of Candy Crush’s microtransactions, a game owned by Activision Blizzard.
“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. “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.”
Loot boxes and microtransactions has been a big issue in the video game industry the last several years as more developers have implemented such systems in their games. The major shift in public opinion on loot boxes started after EA’s Star Wars Battlefront II controversy with the title having immense pay to win features across the board.
The thorny issue of loot boxes and microtransactions in games aimed at kids has been a hot topic of debate in recent years, with many arguing that it’s tantamount to gambling, and could fuel addiction from a young age.
A number of governments around the world have now started to seriously discuss placing restrictions on loot boxes and microtransactions. The most recent development in this ongoing fight has seen US Senator Josh Hawley of Missouri announce a bill that would outright ban such mechanics in “games played by minors”.
The senator clarified that “games played by minors” includes game designed specifically for kids under 18, and games “whose developers knowingly allow minor players to engage in microtransactions”, suggesting that ESRB ratings won’t be much of a consideration. The bill, known as the “The Protecting Children from Abusive Games Act,” will be introduced by Hawley to the US Senate soon.
When announcing the bill, Hawley’s team made specific mention of the Activision-published mobile game Candy Crush as the kind of title that will come under fire for its pay to win to microtransactions, with the press materials pointing out the popular game earns Activision Blizzard $2 billion annually, and has 268 million monthly active users.
Hawley’s team also criticised the fact that Candy Crush has a “best value” $150 “Luscious Bundle” that comes with all manner of items, buffs, and 24 hours of unlimited lives.
The senator said in a press release:
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. Game developers who knowingly exploit children should face legal consequences.
Not long after the bill was introduced, acting president and CEO Stanley Pierre-Louis of the Entertainment Software Association sent over a statement that, while not criticizing the bill, certainly implies the group don’t see it as necessary.
The Entertainment Software Association (ESA) following statement in regards to the US Senator’s new bill
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.
The ESA has been siding with publishers on this since the start of the controversy stating that parents should have additional information to make the decisions for what games their kids play versus changing the industry itself to have the US government intervene. Many people are hesitant to allow the government to regulate it, as it could lead to drastic changes for the industry.
Last year, the Belgium Gaming Commission declared loot boxes illegal under the nation’s gambling laws, reported the BBC, requiring game developers to remove any boxes players could acquire using real money.
Although the practice of microtransactions is common among free-to-play mobile games, the system has crept into paid console games, which has sometimes led to backlash. Two years ago, publisher Electronic Arts introduced several changes to “Star Wars Battlefront II” after users complained over how players are incentivized to earn in-game content. Many players were concerned it would encourage a “pay to play” dynamic where players who spent money held a greater advantage.
Meanwhile, Senator Maggie Hassan (D-NH) asked the Federal Trade Commission to investigate the practice of video game loot boxes last year. The FTC plans to hold a workshop about the issue in August, where it will discuss the origins of loot boxes, how they’re being marketed to consumers, and the potential behavioral impact they could have on children.