There are some Democrats in the US Congress that are hoping to do something about lootboxes in the country. That’s good. They even went so far as to send a letter to major games publishers to try and convince them to self-regulate the monetization scheme. That’s also good. However, they’re doing it by asking a UK recommendation be extended to American children — guidelines that have absolutely nothing to do with lootboxes whatsoever. That’s not so good.
Sen. Ed Markey (D-MA), Rep. Kathy Castor (D-FL), and Rep. Lori Trahan (D-MA) all wrote joint letters to publishers like Disney, Epic Games, Activision, and Microsoft, asking them to extend the protections of the UK’s Age-Appropriate Design Code (AADC) regulation, a set of standards intended to protect children’s privacy, data, and geolocation when they use games, websites, and social media. Nowhere in the language of the regulation does it mention lootboxes.
In spite of this, the letter references “manipulation and peer pressure associated with in-game purchases and loot boxes” and attempts to reference the AADC’s protections as a means for game devs and publishers to curtail the practice.
“The prevalence of micro-transactions — often encouraged through nudging — have led to high credit card bills for parents. Loot boxes go one step further, encouraging purchase before a child knows what the ‘bundle’ contains — akin to gambling. Children are uniquely vulnerable to manipulation and peer pressure associated with in-game purchases and loot boxes. Experts suggest that Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB) ratings and parental controls are insufficient. The AADC represents a monumental step towards child centric design by default.”
The letter also references violence in video games at its open but never raises the matter again, then closes with a vague promise that Congress needs to act “with urgency to enact a strong privacy law for children and teens in the 21st century” — seemingly getting the intention of the AADC regulation — and finally ends with questions asking if the publishers in question will do what the Congresspeople ask. If you’ve ever wondered what trying to do your job without actually doing your job looks like, consider Exhibit A.