U.S. Senator Announces Legislation to Ban Loot Boxes, Pay-to-Win Microtransactions

U.S. Senator Josh Hawley (R-MO) today announced legislation targeting in-game monetization practices.

The bill would ban all loot boxes and pay-to-win microtransactions in games targeted towards minors. ‘The Protecting Children from Abusive Games Act,’ intends to cover a broad stroke of games, including those designed for children under 18, and games that underage players can still engage with the microtransactions. In the release, Hawley specifically targeted Candy Crush, a game designed for kids, but also has an egregious $150 microtransaction pack.

“When a game is designed for kids, game developers shouldn’t be allowed to monetize addiction,” Hawley said. “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.”

Predictably, the Entertainment Software Association, the industry’s lobbying group, released a statement to Kotaku against the legislation. They specifically bring up the fact that several countries have stated loot boxes don’t constitute gambling. They also point to some parental controls in place. However, they ignore the fact that Hawley didn’t bring up gambling in his statement. They also ignored the the World Health Organization’s addition of Gaming Disorder as a mental disorder:

“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.”

Senator Hawley’s bill is the second attempt by the US Senate to reign in control of loot boxes and microtransactions. Last November, the FTC agreed to look into the practice at the behest of Senator Maggie Hassan (D-NH). Last month, the FTC set an August date for a workshop around microtransactions. Whether or not the workshop or legislation leads to meaningful change in how games are monetized is anyone’s guess.