An American Senator has proposed a new bill aimed at protecting customers, specifically children, from manipulative monetization methods in video games, such as loot boxes or ‘pay-to-win’ microtransactions.

Josh Hawley, a Republican Senator from Missouri, proposed “The Protecting Children from Abusive Games Act” on Wednesday, stating that game companies “need to be upfront about what their games are actually doing, and they need to stop practices that intentionally exploit children.”

The bill specifically aims to “prohibit several forms of manipulative design” and establish the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) as the enforcers of these new protections:

Loot Boxes

  • Microtransactions offering randomized or partially randomized rewards to players

Pay-to-Win

  • Manipulation of a game’s progression system – typically by building artificial difficulty or other barriers into game progression – to induce players to spend money on microtransactions to advance through content supposedly available to them at no additional cost
  • Pay-to-win – Manipulation of the competitive balance between players of multiplayer games by allowing players who purchase microtransactions competitive advantages over other players

Enforcement

  • These rules would be enforced by the Federal Trade Commission, which would treat the distribution of such games by publishers and online distributors as an unfair trade practice.
  • State attorneys general would also be empowered to file suit to defend the residents of their states.

In response to this proposed bill, the Electronic Software Association, which is in charge of the video game rating system known as the Entertainment Software Ratings Board (ESRB), provided a statement to video game news website Kotaku:

“Numerous countries, including Ireland, Germany, Sweden, Denmark, Australia, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom, determined that loot boxes do not constitute gambling. 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. Parents already have the ability to limit or prohibit in-game purchases with easy to use parental controls.”

The US government first noted it would begin investigating the potentially addictive mechanics of loot box and pay-to-win systems last year, a year after the controversy surrounding these mechanics hit a fever pitch thanks to questionable implementation in Star Wars: Battlefront II. Earlier in 2018, The Belgian Gaming Commission ruled that loot boxes constitute gambling, prompting companies such as Blizzard, Valve, and EA to either prevent the sale of loot boxes in the country or shut down entire games which heavily relied on microtransactions.

What do you make of this new proposal? Do you think loot boxes and pat-to-win microtransactions should be regulated?

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