US Senator takes aim at lockboxes and pay-to-win with ‘Protecting Children From Abusive Games Act’

    
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The gamblebox issue isn’t dying down any time soon, it appears. As Kotaku first reported, Missouri Senator Josh Hawley has announced he plans to introduce legislation targeting lootboxes and other harmful video game tactics in what his team is calling The Protecting Children From Abusive Games Act. Here’s the heart of the Senator’s press release:

“Social media and video games prey on user addiction, siphoning our kids’ attention from the real world and extracting profits from fostering compulsive habits. 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 monetize 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.”

As outlined, the bill will focus on games “targeted at those under the age of 18” and “prohibit several forms of manipulative design,” including lootboxes and microtransactions that offer randomized rewards, as well as “pay-to-win” elements that “induce players to spend money on microtransactions to advance through content supposedly available to them at no additional cost.” The press release specifically calls out ActiBlizz’s Candy Crush as a “notorious example” of these problems.

MMO players will recall that the end of 2017 and especially 2018 was dominated by industry and political debate over whether video game lockboxes constituted gambling and should be regulated. We saw multiple US legislatorsand multiple countries for that matterraise questions over gambleboxes. Most recently, New Hampshire Senator Maggie Hassan, who sits on the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, questioned FTC reps about gaming addiction and lockboxes and urged the ESRB to overhaul its ratings process in regard to lootboxes. At the time, the FTC agreed to that investigation and planned public workshops on the issue this year.

Source: Hawley’s site, Kotaku. Thanks, John!

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Dean Greenhoe

There are far worse things a senator can waste time on.

If nothing else, this helps to keep the conversation in the limelight. As much as I dislike lockboxes, I also think people should retain personal choice as long as this is confined to adults.

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draugris

Hopefully, you will have more success on loot box control than with your guns.

Ernost
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Ernost

A lot of people seem to be mission the “targeted at those under the age of 18”. How will they verify that you are indeed over 18? Will they start requiring a real world ID to sign up for games like South Korea?

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Adam Russell

Parents should be able to buy their kids a subscription but setup the account so purchases are locked out.

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Jack Kerras

Why in the fuck does absolutely every latch onto children in situations like this?

I mean, I generally agree with making nonsense like this less predatory, but what the fuck, why is it about kids?

Video games aren’t for kids. Haven’t been for a LONG time. And the people who are preyed upon the most by this kind of shit aren’t kids, they’re adults.

Most of the folks I see spending way too much money on F2P games are exactly the same folks who are otherwise easy to prey on; shit’s going down in their lives, they’re depressed and feel bad and feel like a little bump will get them through the day, etc., etc.

Also, here’s the deal: it’s not as though kids don’t easily bypass age restrictions on the regular, or (for example) like the whole concept of giving large companies even more personal information isn’t totally fucked and we should definitely stop doing it.

What, does this Senator think that kids are using their own credit cards to buy things in video games? No. They’re signed in as Mom or Dad or Big Sib, simple as that.

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Nathan Aldana

because the dudes a conservative politican, and playing to his base and his personal biases means couching everything in making sure the moral guardian types get sufficiently angry

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Adam Russell

It is possible to create a lockout that kids could not easily bypass, just like any password restricted access. If a simple password isnt sufficient then give the option for 2 step verification.

As to the question of why kids, well kids are generally less mature than adults. Its the same reason they arent allowed to drink alcohol. Now if you are saying that adults are being preyed upon and need protection too then you will have to show it is enough of a problem that it needs legislation. Thats a higher bar to reach.

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IronSalamander8 .

I hate loot boxes with a passion and while I don’t mind regulation of such things, this legislation doesn’t seem like the best solution. I don’t have a lot of confidence in this particular politician either, although he’s not from my state.

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Schmidt.Capela

I was reading more about the proposal and it’s less drastic than has been portrayed. It doesn’t prevent games from having P2W or lootboxes; instead, it requires that any transaction that involves P2W or lootboxes be locked behind a robust age check that prevents anyone under 18 from engaging in them. Publishers would, then, have the choice of either implementing robust age checks into their billing process or removing lootboxes and P2W elements from the games.

It also doesn’t rely on whether or not lootboxes are gambling; it just focuses on how, between the Skinner Box psychological effects and the pressure to be competitive, they are addictive for children. The “thing of value” defense isn’t exactly valid here.

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Bruno Brito

Hum…how robust? Because it’s not hard to circumvent those.

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Arktouros

Hooray. Nothing like giving companies that are hacked on the regular lots of personal identifying information! Boy oh boy I sure do hope they have something in there to prevent those same companies from selling purchasing habits now associated with my real identifying information.

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Schmidt.Capela

Only if they have P2W or lootboxes in their games; if they don’t, then they won’t have to implement age checks under this proposal.

Basically, this makes paid for lootboxes and P2W into “Adult Only” content, regardless of how the ESRB wants to classify those.
Edit: And only those pieces of content. You would only need to prove you aren’t a minor if you were trying to purchase lootboxes or P2W items/services/whatever. Any other transaction wouldn’t require any more oversight than it currently does.

This, incidentally, creates another incentive to avoid games with those blasted things. Which for me, personally, is a huge positive; given how much I hate lootboxes, anything that reduces their spread also results in less games that I discard out of hand due to lootbox contamination, and thus more games for me to try.

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Arktouros

Can you post a link with the details to the additional level of information and clarity?

Also something like P2W is very subjective and open to interpretation as I mentioned elsewhere. There’s already a huge dissonance between what developers see as P2W and what we as players see as P2W. So downplaying the amount of items covered when according to some definitions of P2W we haven’t seen a non-P2W game with microtransactions in years isn’t exactly reassuring.

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Jim Bergevin Jr

There’s two things I always shake my head at with this topic.

1) The notion that posting the drop rate % is somehow going to make the issues most people have with lock boxes go away. When people want that ultra rare drop, whether the rate is 0.5% or 0.8% doesn’t change the fact that it’s called super rare for a reason.

2) If the notion that thus is gambling because the items in the box have some sort of recognized value, then we are in for a real surprise down the line. We know Governments love to tax any thing that has some sort of value to it, so the more that governments step in to regulate these as gambling, the ever closer we come to having it taxed. Be prepared to fill out a tax form at the end of every quest and raid to claim your rewards.

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Peregrine Falcon

If an industry doesn’t self-regulate then the government will step in and do it for you. The entertainment industry has always known this which is why they set up the ESRB.

But companies like EA and Ubisoft decided to go hard into gambling boxes to get as much money as they could while they could. They knew that the government would step in and put a stop to it eventually, but until they did they’d be able to rake in billions. So they chose high short-term gains, and the trashing of their reputations, over longer-term gains and better customer relations.

And when the government puts a stop to gambling boxes the gaming industry will come up with something else to loot your wallet. And they’ll keep doing it until you stop supporting these greedy companies, whose executives disdain and insult their customers, until you stop giving them your money. Stop complaining about how greedy EA and other game companies are. YOU keep giving them your money. YOU are the real problem here.

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Doctor Sweers

Woo. As a state, Missouri does very little right but they get a +1 from me on this and a 24-hour pass from any further negative comments from me directed their way.