Microtransactions and loot boxes are almost universally hated. ‘Almost’ because video game companies continue to make millions upon millions by using it in their games. They love it. And so it’s hard to see anything changing. The current state of the mobile gaming industry alone is a testament to this simple fact. However, over the last while, there has been a strong movement against the use of these features, particularly when they are directed at younger gamers. And, despite some smaller countries already beginning to implement bans on these kinds of features (essentially equating them to gambling) – it seems the huge US market may soon be facing similar judicial involvement.
As explained by Tony Romm and Craig Timberg (writing for the Washington Post) and Jason Schreier (writing for Kotaku) US Senator Josh Hawley will soon be introducing the “The Protecting Children from Abusive Games Act”. The act would be aimed at games that feature loot boxes or microtransactions that are ‘pay-to-win’ which are specifically aimed at under-18s and even those aimed for adults but which ‘knowingly allow’ younger players to spend money. Both articles explain the issue in some detail and are really worth a read. Hawley in a press release described his thinking on the matter as follows:
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.
There is undoubtedly a political angle to this bill. And from that perspective, I am not qualified or interested in commenting. What I will say, however, is that it is difficult to see any downside to investigating and possibly limiting loot boxes and the like – especially if these are targeted at children. The possibility of the introduction of laws will in the very least bring an even greater spotlight on the issue and hopefully get consumers voting with their wallets… especially if the wallets are in the hands of their minor children.