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.
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.
This isn’t the first time the relationship between the gaming industry and government has become somewhat heated over microtransactions.
Last year, the Belgium Gaming Commission found video game loot boxes to be “in violation of gambling legislation.” This then led to EA finding itself under criminal investigation by the Belgium Government for refusing to modify FIFA’s randomised card pack loot boxes in order to comply with the country’s new gambling laws.
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Ewan Moore is a journalist at UNILAD Gaming who still quite hasn’t gotten out of his mid 00’s emo phase. After graduating from the University of Portsmouth in 2015 with a BA in Journalism & Media Studies (thanks for asking), he went on to do some freelance words for various places, including Kotaku, Den of Geek, and TheSixthAxis, before landing a full time gig at UNILAD in 2016.