Missouri Senator Proposes Banning Loot Boxes, ‘Pay-to-Win’ Features from Video Games

Posted on: May 11, 2019, 02:00h. 

Last updated on: May 10, 2019, 01:59h.

Senator Josh Hawley (R-Missouri) says he is planning to introduce a bill that would ban “manipulative” features in video games marketed at children, including loot boxes and other “pay-to-win” features.

Loot boxes Senate bill
A new bill being introduced to the US Senate would ban loot boxes in games marketed towards children. (Image: Blizzard Entertainment)

Loot boxes have drawn the attention of regulators across the globe, many of whom feel that they represent something close enough to gambling to be problematic for children.

Hawley: Industry ‘Exploiting Children’

While Hawley’s objections went beyond gambling concerns, those issues were referenced in a statement announcing the legislation.

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 said in a statement. “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.”

Hawley’s bill, known as “The Protecting Children from Abusive Games Act,” is expected to be introduced to the Senate in the near future. In the announcement, Hawley said that the legislation would specifically target games meant for children based on their “subject matter, visual content, and other factors.”

This is not the first time a Senator has taken up the issue of loot boxes. Last year, Senator Maggie Hassan (D-New Hampshire) sent a letter to the Federal Trade Commission asking it to investigate the practice.

The Entertainment Software Association, a lobbying group for the video game industry, responded to Hawley’s bill with a statement pointing to how other countries regulate their products.

“Numerous countries, including Ireland, Germany, Sweden, Denmark, Australia, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom, determined that loot boxes do not constitute gambling,” the ESA statement read. “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.”

Conspicuously absent from that list is Belgium. In 2018, the Belgium Gaming Commission found that loot boxes are illegal under the country’s gambling laws, a move that required developers to remove such mechanisms from any games sold in the nation.

Study Suggests Loot Boxes Similar to Gambling

The question of whether or not loot boxes constitute gambling has been a controversial one. On the one hand, the crates – which can be earned through gameplay or often purchased with real money – always give the player something, even if it’s not what the player wants. In that way, they have been compared to collectible card games like Magic: The Gathering. However, many developers have also used techniques similar to slot machines and other gambling games to make the chase for valuable items more exciting, allegedly enticing players to spend more money in the hopes of getting a lucky box.

Last month, a group of researchers from the University of British Columbia found that gamers who are attracted to purchasing loot boxes share behaviors commonly found in problem gamblers.

“Typically we did have an association where the more one spent monthly, the more likely they were to endorse questions that associated with problematic gambling behavior and/or problematic or risky loot box use,” lead author Gabriel Brooks told the Vancouver Sun.

Brooks said the study’s results, which came from a survey of more than 250 gamers, suggest that gambling regulations need to extend to the video game industry.