First of all, I want to say that I am not a fan of loot boxes or even pay-to-win microtransactions. I never understood the point of including these features in today’s games as all they seem to do is hurt the player’s experience with the game they’re playing. Over the past few years, players have been retaliating against these forms of microtransactions. It’s become so bad that the mainstream media has picked up on it, which caused governments from around the world to take a look at the situation. Granted, the U.S. government wanted the Entertainment Software Association (ESA for short) and the ESRB to handle this situation as they were created to manage these issues so the government wouldn’t have to. However, they have made excuse after excuse when it comes to the problem.
Last fall, the U.S. Federal Trade Commission promised to investigate loot boxes following a letter from Senator Maggie Hassan (D-NH). She wrote the document during the wake of 2017’s string of games featuring the heavy usage of predatory microtransactions, such as Middle-earth: Shadow of War and Star Wars Battlefront II. Some of these companies have pulled back on the practice, but popular games like Overwatch, FIFA, and Apex Legends continue to make big money off randomized microtransactions. Many of those games are played by both adults and children. As usual, you want to ensure kids don’t get into these kinds of things, especially at a young age. Now it seems as if things might be coming to a head.
On May 8th, from a post on Kotaku by journalist Jason Schreier said that Senator Josh Hawley (R-MO) had announced a bill that would ban loot boxes and pay-to-win microtransactions in “games played by minors” … a broad label that the senator says will include both games designed for kids under 18 and games “whose developers knowingly allow minor players to engage in microtransactions.”
Hawley will introduce the bill, “The Protecting Children from Abusive Games Act,” to the U.S. Senate soon. In press materials announcing the bill, Hawley’s team brought up the Activision game Candy Crush as an egregious example of pay-to-win microtransactions — thanks to its $150 USD “Luscious Bundle” that comes with a whole bunch of goodies. This bill will also likely apply to a host of online games that feature loot boxes and other ways in which players can spend money on real benefits.
As Hawley 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.”
The Entertainment Software Association (ESA), the video game industry lobbyist group, sent out a statement shortly after this bill was announced to the rest of the Senate stating:
“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.”
Did things have to come to this? No … but they have. The ESA could have done something proper with this situation instead of putting a label on physical boxes that say “Includes In-Games Purchases” which labels regular DLC or a season pass in the same category. On top of that, a lot of these countries have reviewed loot boxes and find them very concerning, while places like Belgium will ban them. Will a bill actually be passed? It’s highly possible, but it’s a wait-and-see kind of situation at the moment. Hopefully, the ESA will pull through so that bill doesn’t actually pass.