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Off TopicMay 8, 2019 2:00 pm CT

Off-Topic: A new bill would ban games from selling loot boxes to minors

The first step toward removing randomized loot boxes and pay-to-win microtransactions in games could be on its way.

Today, Senator Josh Hawley (R-MO) announced a bill that would ban loot boxes and pay-to-win microtransactions in “games played by minors,” Kotaku reports. The scope of it includes games made for children under 18 as well as games that “knowingly allow minor players to engage in microtransactions.” That means that any game with loot boxes or pay-to-win purchases — like experience boosts to make it through a game faster — could be banned. Regulators would determine whether or not a game violates this law by how it’s marketed and its subject matter.

Hawley’s bill, “The Protecting Children from Abusive Games Act,” will be introduced to the U.S. Senate soon — and it isn’t the only attack microtransactions are facing. In February the FTC told The Verge that it had plans to investigate loot boxes in games. The FTC planned to hold public workshops to discuss the effects of loot boxes in the industry with developers.

Hawley’s bill and the FTC’s current investigation highlight a growing skepticism when it comes to randomized loot boxes in games. The Entertainment Software Association responded to today’s news by mentioning that other countries have determined that loot boxes aren’t gambling, and don’t need to be regulated as such. However, some countries do consider random loot boxes to be a form of gambling — but the United States hasn’t weighed in yet.

When you have people spending thousands of dollars on loot boxes or minors buying $100 bonuses in mobile games, it’s clear there’s a problem. While there might be a way to do loot boxes untied to real money, it seems like the current, popular version of them needs to change.

Hawley’s bill might not pass, but it starts the conversation and illustrates how loot boxes can be dangerous. Just because it’s something that’s in many games these days doesn’t mean it’s okay.

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