In a new proposed bill titled “The Protecting Children from Abusive Games Act,” Hawley proposes the ban of loot boxes and pay-to-win microtransactions in “games played by minors.” Hawley’s team offered press materials that highlighted games like Candy Crush (published by Activision) as a game that uses aggressive pay-to-win tactics, including a bundle of power-up items that is sold for $150. Many mobile games (and some regular console or PC games) also have similar game mechanics.
The bill also goes after Loot Boxes, which is when a player spends real money to open what is essentially a “mystery box,” spitting out items, power-ups, or cosmetic add-ons of random rarity. Many gaming developers have been reluctant to list the actual odds of receiving the rarest of items, leading to comparisons to slot machines as gamers keep paying to open Loot Boxes in search of that one elusive item. Some loot boxes also provide items that give a competitive advantage against the AI or other human players, which means they also fall under the “pay to win” category.
“When a game is designed for kids, game developers shouldn’t be allowed to monetize addiction,” Hawley said, according to a press release. “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.”
It’s not the first time the U.S. government has looked into these gaming mechanics. The Federal Trade Commission promised to investigate loot boxes in 2017 after a handful of controversial games were released that were especially exploitative of microtransactions — most famously Star Wars Battlefront II, published by EA.