Loot boxes should be banned, says United States senator

Ruben Fields
May 10, 2019

In his introduction to the bill, Hawley said these kinds of in-game elements risk encouraging "compulsive habits" and that developers shouldn't be able to "monetize addiction". A federal court in 2016 found that Amazon unfairly charged parents for purchases their children made while using apps that were marketed as "free". Games like "Overwatch" and "Fortnite" offer these boxes for real-world money, drawing some comparisons to gambling, since purchasers don't know exactly what they will receive. In other cases, designers create multiplayer games offering players who purchase paid upgrades competitive advantages over other players.

Hawley cited the game Candy Crush as a "notorious" example, saying it allows players to purchase a $149.99 bundle that includes in-game currency, boosters to reduce difficulty and 24 hours of unlimited lives. And when kids play games for adults, they should be walled off from compulsive micro transactions.

"When a game is designed for kids, game developers shouldn't be allowed to monetise addiction", Hawley stated in press materials announcing the bill.

Most respondents in both groups said they thought loot boxes were a form of gambling.

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The association's president and CEO, Stanley Pierre-Louis, told the Kansas City Star in an email, "Parents already have the ability to limit or prohibit in-game purchases with easy-to-use parental controls". However, one United States senator has proposed legislation that may put an end to the controversial practice.

While there's no guarantee the bill will pass, the fact that opposition is mounting in the Senate against these practices will keep the pressure on publishers and continue to maintain the negative connotations associated with phrases like "pay to win" and "microtransactions".

In other areas of the government, the Federal Trade Commission is going to be holding a public workshop on the topic of loot boxes this August.

Under the proposed bill, the burden would be placed on the FTC to enforce these rules, with violations deemed "unfair trade practices", and give state attorneys general the power to file lawsuits against developers with offending systems in place. The industry should appreciate that, as doing so would put everything rated lower than Adults Only (so, virtually everything) in its crosshairs, but it also means that the process of determining which games are "played by minors" is vague and wide open to interpretation.

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