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Proposed US Bill to Ban Loot Boxes Gains Bipartisan Support

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While US politics are heating up, one thing seems to have brought a few people to the table: a proposed bill that would ban loot boxes from video games.

In case you missed our prior coverage, United States Senator Josh Hawley (R, Missouri) proposed a bill to ban lootboxes and pay-to-win style DLC from games aimed at children in the US.

This bill (the The Protecting Children from Abusive Games Act) has now been released in full, and has been co-signed by Senator Richard Blumenthal (D, Connecticut) and Senator Ed Markey (D, Massachusetts).

While the bill is mainly focused on “minor-oriented games”, the bill also includes clauses including games where a publisher “has constructive knowledge that any of its users are under the age of 18.”

This would also apply to updates to games adding such features. Even Game Distributors are under a similar conditions and would be banned from selling such games, including if the distributor had constructive knowledge that any of its users were minors.

The bill excepts programs that players are “limited to selecting options from a menu of choices” and “would not be considered a game by a reasonable user.” The bill also excepts cosmetic DLC and one-time purchase DLC that does not make progress easier.

This could prove interesting in DLC that offers additional content, but completing that content would award abilities or equipment that makes “progress easier.” In addition, could there be loopholes with mature FPS titles offering loot-boxes for cosmetic items such as gun-skins or character customization?

The act would be enforced by the FTC (Federal Trade Commission) and State Attorney Generals. Not only would “each pay-to-win microtransaction or loot box sold to a user who is under the age of 18” be considered its own violation, but fines must exceed what profit the company made due to the offending transactions.

The bill also proposes the FTC must create a report to present to congress within two years to outline the psychological effects of pay-to-win and loot boxes, their effect on the video game industry and if they could create compulsive buying in minors.

Speaking to GamesIndustry.biz, Hawley spoke harshly about loot boxes:

“Only the addiction economy could produce a business model that relies on placing a casino in the hands of every child in America with the goal of getting them desperately hooked. I’m proud to introduce this landmark, bipartisan legislation to end to these exploitative practices.”

The two co-signers also shared their thoughts.

“Today’s digital entertainment ecosystem is an online gauntlet for children,” Markey said. “Inherently manipulative game features that take advantage of kids and turn play time into pay time should be out of bounds.” Blumenthal is said to have noted the bi-partisan nature of the legislation and called the loot boxes and pay-to-win monetization reprehensible. “Congress must send a clear warning to app developers and tech companies: Children are not cash cows to exploit for profit.”

The ESA (Entertainment Software Association) seemed critical of the bill, as CEO Stanley Pierre-Louis offered a damning statement:

“This legislation is flawed and riddled with inaccuracies. It does not reflect how video games work nor how our industry strives to deliver innovative and compelling entertainment experiences to our audiences. The impact of this bill would be far-reaching and ultimately prove harmful to the player experience, not to mention the more than 220,000 Americans employed by the video game industry. We encourage the bill’s co-sponsors to work with us to raise awareness about the tools and information in place that keep the control of video game play and in-game spending in parents’ hands rather than in the government’s.”

In 2017 Senator Chris Lee (D, Hawaii) proposed banning the sale of lootboxes to anyone under 21. The US Justice Department also declared all internet gambling illegal in January 2019. 

In the ongoing controversy surrounding lootboxes, several other countries threatened to take legal action against developers. EA even removed premium currency from FIFA 18 and FIFA 19 after Belgium authorities made their they deemed lootboxes as being on-par with gambling. In addition several companies pulled their games from service within Belgium. As of this time of writing, the United Kingdom still deems that lootboxes are not akin to gambling.

What do you think? Sound off in the comments below!


Ryan Pearson

About

Taking his first steps onto Route 1 and never stopping, Ryan has had a love of RPGs since a young age. Now he's learning to appreciate a wider pallet of genres and challenges.