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U.S. Senator wants devs that ‘knowingly exploit’ children with loot boxes to ‘face legal consequences’

A U.S. senator has proposed a new legislative bill to ban pay-to-win mechanics and loot boxes in games designed to appeal to children.

Senator Josh Hawley proposed the bill – entitled Protecting Children from Abusive Games Act – as a means of preventing publishers from using addictive and exploitative mechanics in games that are specifically marketed at children, such as randomised rewards in loot boxes, or pay-to-progress or pay-to-win microtransactions. Hawley proposes enforcement should lie with the Federal Trade Commission – which is running a workshop with stakeholders and consumer advocates later this year – while individual states, too, would also be able to take legal action against companies it believes violates the law.

“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 (thanks, GI.biz). “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.

“When a game is designed for kids, game developers shouldn’t be allowed to monetise 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.”

Hawley used King’s highly-successful Candy Crush franchise as a “notorious” example, and specifically cited the game’s $150 “Luscious Bundle” as an exemplar that troubled him.

Industry veterans called on the global games industry last December to take action on loot boxes in video games. While loot crates and microtransactions have been an industry staple for a number of years now, the loot mechanics in games like Star Wars Battlefront 2 and Overwatch at the time drew the attention of gambling regulators. Many countries like Belgium and the Netherlands have already taken action in relation to gambling laws.

Speaking at a behind-closed-doors event last year, one developer opined that if the industry didn’t take steps to self-regulation, Government legislation would be like a “sledgehammer”, while another suggested self-regulation might already be too late, and that “the sledgehammer is coming whether we like it or not”.

When asked for comment about the Senator’s proposal, the Entertainment Software Association stated “numerous countries” had already determined “loot boxes do not constitute gambling”.

“Numerous countries, including Ireland, Germany, Sweden, Denmark, Australia, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom, determined that loot boxes do not constitute gambling,” the statement said. “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.”

About Vikki Blake

It took 15 years of civil service monotony for Vikki to crack and switch to writing about games. She has since become an experienced reporter and critic working with a number of specialist and mainstream outlets in both the UK and beyond.

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