The days of video game loot boxes might be numbered as Senator Josh Hawley (R-MO) announced a new bill this week that would ban loot boxes and pay-to-win microtransactions in games played by minors.
If passed, The Protecting Children from Abusive Games Act would apply new consumer protections to:
- Games targeted at those under the age of 18. This would be determined by subject matter, visual content, and other indicators.
- Games with wider audiences whose developers knowingly allow minor players to
engage in microtransactions
“When a game is designed for kids, game developers shouldn’t be allowed to monetize addiction,” Hawley said in a press release. “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’s announcement specifically references Candy Crush’s $150 “Luscious Bundle” as a prime example of the type of predatory practices the bill would address.
The connection between loot boxes and gambling shouldn’t be underestimated, as a recent public study of over 7,400 gamers found “important links between loot box spending and problem gambling.” Published by the Australian Environment and Communications Reference Committee, the survey was written in response to a scholarly journal published in Nature Human Behaviour, titled, “Video game loot boxes are psychologically akin to gambling.”
The new bill would have the above rules enforced by the Federal Trade Commission, which would treat the distribution of such games by publishers and online distributors as an unfair trade practice.
In response, The Entertainment Software Association, the video game industry lobbyist group, stated, “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.”