Missouri Republican Senator Josh Hawley has introduced legislation to ban exploitative microtransactions, including Loot Boxes and other pay-to-win systems.
"Social media and video games prey on user addiction, siphoning our kids’ attention from the real world and extracting profits from fostering compulsive habits," Hawley announced. "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."
Should Senator Hawley's proposal pass through Congress, video game developers will be held legally accountable for marketing microtransactions to children. While this will most drastically affect games for kids, the legislation will also apply to more adult games by legally requiring them to make it harder to purchase Loot Boxes.
Senator Hawley's statement is not the first one made against microtransactions. Last year, New Hampshire Senator Maggie Hassan requested the Federal Trade Commission investigate the practice of Loot Boxes, and workshop held by the FTC will discuss the matter this August. Topics of discussion will include how Loot Boxes are being marketed to younger consumers and any social or behavioral impact they may have on teenagers and children.
Loot Boxes have become increasingly common in recent years. They function as loot packs that can offer players new content in exchange for in-game and/or real-world money. However, unlike regular DLC, where a player knows what they're buying, Loot Boxes are a mystery. They might know the chances they have to get a certain item, but they don't know the specifics. So, naturally, they'll keep buying Loot Boxes until they get what they want.
Some Loot Boxes, such as those found in Overwatch, offer cosmetic content that doesn't affect gameplay. Others, however, offer gameplay-focused material, such as weapons, armor and/or perks that might be necessary if any player hopes to have a chance of victory in competitive play.
Many countries, such as Belgium and the Netherlands, regard Loot Boxes as a form of gambling and have already pushed legislation to remove Loot Boxes when distributing games to their country.
However, governments are not the only ones lashing back at Loot Boxes. Many gamers feel the pay-to-win model gives players an unfair advantage and see it as a way to either shove half of a finished game into stores for full price or a way to continually exploit players financially.
Most memorably, Star Wars Battlefront II met intense scrutiny due to its microtransaction system. The game hid various game content behind a pay-wall, making it impossible to play without spending hours grinding for in-game currency or spending more than double the price of the game on Loot Boxes to unlock everything. This led to microtransactions being suspended from the game altogether.
Should this bill pass, video game companies will have to reconsider one of the most controversial gaming practices of the last decade.