Anti-Loot Box Bill Spells Trouble for Companies
While pushes were made back in 2017 and 2018 to incentivize government officials to take a stand against the predatory nature that game mechanics such as loot boxes present, it seemed the only outcome was the failed bills that came out from Hawaii and we would be left with little to nothing to show for gamer’s efforts. This has seemingly taken a U-turn though as there is a new bill presented by Mr.Josh Hawley (pictured) which aims “to regulate certain pay-to-win microtransactions and sales of loot boxes in interactive digital entertainment products, and for other purposes.” The bill goes by the name “Protecting Children from Abusive Games Act.”
According to outlets such as The Verge, the bill has already generated significant bipartisan support with senators Ed Markey and Richard Blumenthal voicing their strong support for the bill to be made into reality.
What the bill effectively does, if it was to be made an actual US law, it would make it illegal for games that included loot boxes to be made illegal for distribution towards anyone under the age of 18 and that games geared more heavily towards children would not be allowed to ever add loot boxes at any time during its distribution and that goes for any similar “pay-to-win” mechanics. From the bill reading it would seem that companies that were found to be doing this would be penalized financially.
Hawley has made a relatively large name for himself already and has become somewhat popular amongst consumers of online media and parents heavily, as he is the same senator to criticize Google and Facebook for how much power they hold over the online landscape and the same senator to propose a bill to further limit what information companies could obtain through children through online games. In an interview with Kotaku’s Jason Schreier, Josh Hawley was quoted as saying:
“Only the addiction economy could produce a business model that relies on placing a casino in the hands of every child in America with the goal of getting them desperately hooked. I’m proud to introduce this landmark, bipartisan legislation to end these exploitative practices.”
The bill has attracted its fair share of critics though, the most notable being the CEO of the Entertainment Software Association Stanley Pierre-Louis with him going to state in response to reading the bill proposition:
“ This legislation is flawed and riddled with inaccuracies. It does not reflect how video games work nor how our industry strives to deliver innovative and compelling entertainment experiences to our audiences. The impact of this bill would be far-reaching and ultimately prove harmful to the player experience, not to mention the more than 220,000 Americans employed by the video game industry. We encourage the bill’s co-sponsors to work with us to raise awareness about the tools and information in place that keep the control of video game play and in-game spending in parents’ hands rather than in the government’s.”
The only major problem that I have is that the lines in the bill are heavily blurred almost seeming that the bill isn’t just targetting games that are rated T by the ESRB but also games rated M when the companies have knowledge that some of its players are minors. I feel this is the area that might hold a chance of the bill failing due to a very easy argument being allowing created by the companies saying that they aren’t responsible if kids play their adult rated games, it’s more the parent’s responsibilities to regulate what it is that their kids are playing. So as an example, if say Overwatch kept its loot boxes and this bill passes and it’s bumped to an M rating due to loot boxes being present, it would mean that the company could be fined for them having kids playing their games despite it being appropriately gated. I’m not going to say if this would be a good or a bad thing for the consumer standpoint, I’m just saying there’s an argument the companies could make based around this point that might stand as a large contestment towards the bill being a reality.
I do find the criticisms leveled by the ESA CEO relatively ridiculous though. I can understand the ending sentiment of wanting to put power more in the parents' hands rather than pushing the regulation to government officials, but looking at where he’s coming from with the thought process it makes it harder to get behind him with that when he’s saying that these pay-to-win mechanics enhance the player experience.