Published: Thu, May 09, 2019
IT | By Lester Massey

US Senator introducing legislation banning loot boxes in games aimed at minors

US Senator introducing legislation banning loot boxes in games aimed at minors

Hot news out of Washington this morning, as US Senator Josh Hawley (R-MO) has introduced a bill (dubbed "The Protecting Children from Abusive Games Act") meant to ban loot boxes and pay-to-win microtransactions in "games played by minors", a label that apparently includes both games marketed at children and games for adults "whose developers knowingly allow minor players to engage in microtransactions".

Hawley is expected to introduce this bill to the Senate soon, with it being dubbed "The Protecting Children from Abusive Games Act".

"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 in a statement. "And when kids play games designed for adults, they should be walled off from compulsive microtransactions", he said. The introduction to the bill says the distinction would be based on "subject matter, visual content, and other indicators similar to those used to determine applicability of the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act".

One example provided by Hawley in his pending legislation is Activision Blizzard's Candy Crush that features a package of goods including virtual currency for $150. In some cases, designers engineer games with artificial difficulty curves to induce players to spend money on upgrades simply to progress.

Hawley's declaration is the most serious sign of federal action on randomized loot boxes since they became a somewhat notable political issue in late 2017.

Sen. Hawley is not the first USA politician to propose loot box legislation. But, some fear they're too much like gambling and are exploitative.

Fearing the risks of addiction, regulators in Belgium, Japan and China have taken aim at loot boxes and other in-game microtransactions over the past year, resulting in some video-game companies pulling their titles from entire markets to comply with local restrictions. Stanley Piere-Louis, CEO of the Entertainment Software Association, said in an interview with Variety that parents already have access to parental controls that can block children from making microtransactions in games.

Nearly 90% said that they had opened a loot box in a video game, with more than half spending money on them and about a third reporting to have sold a loot box item.

Purchases made within games - often called "micropayments" or "in-app purchases" - have come under scrutiny in recent years, in part, because children often use their parents' credit cards or other payment methods to rack up charges that can run into the hundreds or thousands of dollars.

They contain items of use for further game-play, such as weapons, although some are purely cosmetic.

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