US Senator proposes a Loot Box Ban Bill to minimise “manipulative design”

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I don’t think anybody other than game publishers actually really likes Loot Boxes and microtransactions, but we as consumers have learned to put up with them, especially when they’re the less egregious sort that only doles out cosmetic fluff. Of course, there is that nice dopamine rush that comes with opening loot boxes, especially when they dish out items you actually want. Of course, while that feels good, it’s not quite the same as liking something; it’s more like an abusive relationship, and one of the reasons that legislators are starting to view loot boxes as being problematic.

US Senator Josh Hawley has now proposed new legislation that does away with loot boxes, pay-to-win mechanics and other bits of “manipulative design” in games that focus on children.

“In recent years, the video game industry has become increasingly reliant on monetization models that promote compulsive ‘microtransaction’ purchases by consumers,” Says Hawley in a a statement announcing the legislation on his website.

“When a game is designed for kids, game developers shouldn’t be allowed to monetize addiction,” says Hawley, “And when kids play games designed for adults, they should be walled off from compulsive microtransactions.”

Hawley goes so far as to say that “game developers who knowingly exploit children should face legal consequences.”

Hawley intends for his new bill, The Protecting Children from Abusive Games Act, to “apply new consumer protections to games played by minors.” In the summary of said Act, Hawley specifically targets Loot boxes and Pay-to-Win mechanics as “manipulative design”

Loot Boxes

  • Microtransactions offering randomized or partially randomized rewards to players

Pay-to-Win

  • Manipulation of a game’s progression system – typically by building artificial difficulty or other barriers into game progression – to induce players to spend money on microtransactions to advance through content supposedly available to them at no additional cost
  • Pay-to-win – Manipulation of the competitive balance between players of multiplayer games by allowing play

“Social media and video games prey on user addiction, siphoning our kids’ attention from the real world and extracting profits from fostering compulsive habits,” Says Hawley. “No matter this business model’s advantages to the tech industry, one thing is clear: there is no excuse for exploiting children through such practices.”

Responding to the bill’s announcement, The US’s Entertainment Software Association released a statement:

“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,” the ESA’s statement continued, “Parents already have the ability to limit or prohibit in-game purchases with easy to use parental controls.”

They also said that “numerous countries, including Ireland, Germany, Sweden, Denmark, Australia, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom, determined that loot boxes do not constitute gambling.” Of course, they conveniently left out information that both the Netherlands and Belgium have decided otherwise. In those countries, loot boxes and similar mechanics deemed to be gambling are effectively banned, forcing developers and publishers to retool them for those regions. While pervasive microtransactions are likely to continue for the rest of us, pressure in the US might change that.

Last Updated: May 9, 2019

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