In the wake of EA announcing to investors and shareholders during their financial report yesterday that they will continue to pursue live-services and in-game subscriptions moving into the next year, Republican Senator Josh Hawley revealed his intentions to introduce “The Protecting Children from Abusive Games Act” to the U.S. senate.
The proposed bill would see loot boxes and pay-to-win microtransactions banned in video games that are “played by minors”. The law itself is admittedly vague and broad at the moment (as it isn't yet official legislation), targeting releases aimed at children under the age of 18, but also companies “whose developers knowingly allow minor players to engage in microtransactions.”
In particular, Hawley is taking aim at the cycles of addiction developers use to encourage players to pony up more cash. The specific game he name dropped was Activision’s Candy Crush, and specifically the “Luscious Bundle” of in-game items that costs a whopping $150. It’s an obvious target to pick; not only is it immensely popular, but it’s also easily accessible on any mobile device, with its addictive nature appealing to casual players of any age.
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”. Publishers like EA and Activision will continue to fight their corner, especially considering how much they make from these in-game purchases (with them making up a huge chunk of the latter company's $8 billion yearly intake). Industry lobbyist group The Entertainment Software Association has provided a statement in response to Hawley's proposition to outlets, reading:
“Numerous countries, including Ireland, Germany, Sweden, Denmark, Australia, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom, determined that loot boxes do not constitute gambling. 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.”
Though they are correct that these systems don't technically or legally fall under the umbrella of "gambling", it's undeniable that they're built around similar structures of addiction. Who eventually comes out on top in this battle won't be known for a while yet, but it's clear the loot box controversy isn't going away anytime soon.