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US senator introduces bill to ban loot boxes in video games

Steven R. May 8, 2019

The creeping international legislation against loot boxes has finally reached American shores.

According to a report from Kotaku, US Senator Josh Hawley has introduced “The Protecting Children from Abusive Games Act,” a bill that takes aim at loot boxes and microtransactions. If passed, this carries serious consequences for the video game industry.

“When a game is designed for kids, game developers shouldn’t be allowed to monetize addiction,” the Republican from Missouri said in a statement. “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.”

Loot boxes have become common in all manner of video games in recent years. Though these can be limited to cosmetic enhancements like hats in Team Fortress 2, other titles such as Star Wars Battlefront II have taken it a step further by offering in-game advantages to those who are willing to throw down exorbitant sums of cash. These features have crept into single player games as well, with games like Metal Gear Solid V and Dead Space 3 offering significant shortcuts for those willing to fork over a few more dollars.

In many cases, loot boxes are a critical source of revenue for publishers as some games may not be financially viable without them. Still, there is no denying that publishers have taken some predatory measures to wring money out of players.

With many games now boasting the ability to trade items, in-game loot often carries a specific monetary value. This has created an economy around loot boxes in some games that more closely resembles traditional gambling.

This has inspired discussion on the subject in many governments, but no country has yet taken measures to ban them. Countries including the United Kingdom, Australia, and Denmark have all discussed barring loot boxes but have ultimately opted against it.

While loot boxes offer the opportunity to randomly receive an item of greater value than the initial investment made, the fact that there is a secondary market does set it apart from traditional gambling.

That doesn’t mean there won’t be changes that come from this bill, should it pass. Countries including China and South Korea require that companies to disclose the exact probabilities of receiving certain items from loot boxes, while Australia bars minors from purchasing them.

Either way, the fate of this bill could be one of the most important stories in the video game industry in 2019.

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