Hawaii representative Chris Lee made headlines a couple of weeks ago after announcing that Hawaii would be investigating EA and looking into legislation that would ban games with predatory practices. In that announcement, he referred to Star Wars Battlefront II as a “Star Wars themed online casino,” that preys on the addictive behaviors of young people. He is currently making good on that press conference by beginning the process of drafting anti-loot box laws.
Lee’s primary aim is to ban the sales of any games with predatory practices–that is, any game that has gambling mechanics–to those under the age of 21. The lawmakers that he is working with make it clear that this isn’t a law against microtransactions. Outright purchase of an in-game item would not be included in the ban, only systems that offer a percentage chance at certain items. He also wants developers to disclose the drop rates of certain items if they do have loot boxes in game.
In the video, he references a hypothetical mechanic where developers will actually decrease the drop rates of certain items for someone that has been identified as a “whale,” or a player that is willing to spend a lot of money on in-game purchases. While it’s certainly not impossible to think that some games may employ this tactic, it is largely unproven conjecture rather than unmitigated fact. Lee does state that he received the information third-hand, but it’s potentially dangerous to begin laying the foundations for legislation without doing full research.
The video continues to give a call to action, asking people to write to their state representatives and escalate the issue. Lee includes a link to a letter template in the description of his video that paints quite the harrowing picture of the games industry as it currently stands. The letter includes five potential courses of action for lawmakers to look into moving forward.
1. Ensure that games employing loot boxes or similar variable reward mechanisms which can be purchased receive a 21 years of age and older “Adults Only” rating to warn consumers before they purchase or download a new game.
2. Consider prohibiting the sale of games employing loot boxes or similar variable reward mechanisms which can be purchased to those under 21 years of age.
3. Expand the mission of regulatory oversight bodies such as gaming commissions—which already oversee slot machines—to encompass loot boxes or similar variable reward mechanisms which can be purchased in video games.
4. Require the clear disclosure of the odds of winning items in loot boxes or similar variable reward mechanisms which can be purchased on screen at the time of purchase.
5. Enable regulators to audit the game mechanics of loot boxes or similar variable reward mechanisms which can be purchased to ensure consumers are treated fairly.
While much of Lee’s focus may be in protecting youth and those who may have a predisposition for gambling addiction, some of these points do suggest an air of consumer protections for all gamers. Lee admits that loot boxes in games may not fit the dated legal definitions of gambling, but says that they employ the same exploitative psychology that casinos use.
I recently wrote a piece on the potential dangers that government involvement in video games might have. If governments are indeed going to continue moving forward with legislation regarding video games, I think that it’s high time that the ESA steps up to work with them, offering insight, education, and awareness as they draft laws that would greatly impact the future of our hobby.