US legislator proposes loot box ban

Senator Josh Hawley to introduce a bill prohibiting pay-to-win and loot box mechanics in games aimed at children

The debate over loot boxes continues, as US Senator Josh Hawley today said he will introduce legislation to ban publishers from using exploitive game mechanics in titles aimed at children, and to prohibit children from accessing them in games aimed at adults.

According to Hawley, the Protecting Children from Abusive Games Act would prohibit offering randomized rewards to players through microtransactions, manipulating a game's progression systems to encourage players to spend money, or giving players who purchase microtransactions competitive advantages over others. The Federal Trade Commission would be responsible for enforcing the rules, treating the use of such mechanics as an unfair trade practice. Individual states would also be able to sue companies over violations to protect their residents.

"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.

"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."

Hawley noted Candy Crush as a "notorious" example of an exploitive game, specifically citing the $150 "Luscious Bundle" offered to players that gives them virtual currency, consumables that make the game easier, and 24 hours of unlimited lives. He added that the Luscious Bundle is advertised with the label, "Best Value."

The move from the Republican Hawley suggests loot box legislation could be a rare bipartisan issue in the US these days. The loudest criticisms of the games industry's monetization practices to date have come from Democratic state senators in Hawaii and Washington, and on the federal level from Democratic Senator Maggie Hassan, who last year pushed the FTC to investigate the subject more carefully. (An FTC workshop with industry stakeholders and consumer advocates is set for August 7.)

When asked for comment, the Entertainment Software Association sent the following quote from its acting president and CEO Stanley Pierre-Louis: "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.:

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Latest comments (4)

Klaus Preisinger Freelance Writing 3 years ago
The defensive strategy that something is not considered gambling by multiple states only works when you stand accused of gambling.

Highlights to address instead are words such as randomized rewards, manipulating, competitive advantages, unfair trade practice, prey on user addiction, siphoning attention, exploiting children, knowingly exploit children, monetize addiction, compulsive microtransactions.

It will also not be enough to try and push responsibility away by pointing towards parental controls at this point. Trying to dodge responsibility this way never ends well.
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Hugo Trepanier Senior Game Designer, Ludia3 years ago
As a father of two I'm all for protecting children from abuse of any kind but when I read things like "manipulating a game's progression systems to encourage players to spend money" I can't help but feel they'd be trying to kill a whole industry. How is a Free to Play game to succeed if it does not encourage players to spend money for a better play experience?
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Klaus Preisinger Freelance Writing 3 years ago
I can't help but feel they'd be trying to kill a whole industry.
Never mistake self-interest for malice:

- proof there is still bi-partisanship
- protecting family values
- proof you do not need Bernie or AOC to fight evil corporations
- 'what about' argument should somebody bring up the FCC and EPA.
- a target whose consumers will not rally behind the targeted industry (cmp. gun legislation attempts)

The ESA is caught somewhere between finding an easier target, or start building a wall.
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Ian Griffiths Product Owner, Hutch3 years ago
The vast majority of f2p games aren't designed for kids and they're certainly not designed to monetize what children play. Just because Candy Crush is colourful doesn't mean it's for children.

Children can be walled off from IAPs in any games; it's called parenting. Parents have the ability to decide what games their children play and when they play them. This is the same old 'think of the children' complaint, largely baseless with the sole intention of appearing pro-family. The irony is that it's anything but as it increases the power of the state and reduces the responsibility of the parent. There is an unfathomable number of people who want others to control their lives and a limitless number of candidates who will do just that.

Again though, as the anti-f2p crowd may be wringing their hands at every attempt to clamp down on the games their mothers enjoy the senator's language spells trouble for the whole industry.
"Social media and video games prey on user addiction, siphoning our kids' attention from the real world and extracting profits from fostering compulsive habits,"
Here, he doesn't reserve his ire for f2p games. Make no mistake, if this passes it will be the first step in further regulation that restricts what games we make and who is allowed to play them.
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