New US Legislation Targets Microtransactions, Loot Boxes, & Pay-To-Win Games

TJ Denzer,

May 8, 2019 4:14 PM

Senator Josh Hawley (R-MO) introduced a bill today that would take aim at "games played by minors" that include microtransactions and pay-to-win systems.

One of the first official legislative volleys in the ongoing discussion of microtransactions in video games has been shown. As the gaming industry and public opinion shift and debate on what qualifies loot boxes, pay-to-win systems, and other in-game purchases as predatory, Senator Josh Hawley (R-MO) has introduced a bill that ban microtransactions from games played by minors.

The legislation was announced on May 5, 2019, as reported by Kotaku. Introduced as the “The Protecting Children from Abusive Games Act,” Hawley’s core of the bill, as stated in a press release, argues that, “When a game is designed for kids, game developers shouldn’t be allowed to monetize addiction.”

“When kids play games designed for adults, they should be walled off from compulsive microtransactions,” Hawley further claimed. “Game developers who knowingly exploit children should face legal consequences.”

Star Wars Battlefront 2's pretty much overtly pay-to-win models put the microtransaction debate back at the forefront of many gamers' minds.
Star Wars Battlefront 2's pretty much overtly pay-to-win models put the microtransaction debate back at the forefront of many gamers' minds.

Games like Fortnite, Overwatch, Star Wars: Battlefront, and recently Borderlands 3 have continued to put in-game purchases on the forefront of gaming debates and make “microtransactions” a dirty word that developers often try to skirt. Various nations, such as the Dutch, have come to conclusions in the past that microtransactions are dangerously close to gambling, which is heavily regulated throughout the world. That is also a stigma that organizations such as the Entertainment Software Association (ESA) have tried to fight tooth and nail.

To that end, the ESA has also responded to Hawley’s legislation already with its own statement, which was sent to Kotaku: “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.” 

It would appear that between the ESA, Hawley’s bill, and the ongoing debate, the subject of microtransactions and the rules surrounding them are on the verge of becoming an even more heated battleground than ever before.



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