U.S. Senator Wades Into Loot Box Controversy, Calls on ESRB to Review Ratings

The controversy over Loot Boxes and microtransactions has finally landed at the doorstep of the United States Senate.

The Loot Box controversy is one controversy the games industry can’t seem to shake. While For Honor and Middle-earth: Shadow of War ruffled feathers last year, it was Star Wars Battlefront II and Destiny 2 that blew up the controversy. Loot Boxes and microtransactions weren’t just industry jargon anymore as mainstream news outlets picked up the story. Soon, state legislators and other countries vowed to introduce legislation to regulate or ban Loot Boxes. Now, the controversy has made its way to the US Senate.

Senator Maggie Hassan, a Democrat from New Hampshire, is calling on the ESRB to reconsider its rating process concerning Loot Boxes. Writing in a letter ESRB president Patricia Vance, Hassan would like the ratings board to examine marketing to children, develop best practices for developers, and conduct studies into how Loot Boxes in games affect individuals.

“As technology advances, ESRB must work to keep pace with new gaming trends, including the in-game microtransactions and predatory gaming tactics, particularly as they are deployed on minors. The prevalence of in-game microtransactions, often referred to as ‘loot boxes,’ raises several concerns surrounding the use of psychological principles and enticing mechanics that closely mirror those often found in casinos and games of chance. The potential for harm is real.”

At the same time, Senator Hassan brought up the issue of Loot Boxes and microtransactions during a Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee hearing for four FTC nominees. She specifically asked whether or not the FTC would be willing to look into Loot Boxes should the ESRB fail to act. All four nominees agreed to address the issue if confirmed.

It certainly seems that something will happen one way or the other. Either the ESRB prepares to self-regulate, or the FTC gets involved. Currently, four bills are being introduced in the Hawaiian state legislature to regulate Loot Boxes. Worldwide, numerous countries continue to conduct investigations into whether or not Loot Boxes constitute gambling.

Thanks, Rolling Stone!