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Senator Josh Hawley has announced plans to introduce a bill to the US Senate to address and restrict the use of loot boxes and “pay to win” microtransactions in video games, particularly in games aimed at children.
The Protecting Children from Abusive Games Act, according to a press release shared by the Missouri senator today, aims to bar games played by minors from including certain monetization schemes like loot boxes and in-game purchases that give players speedier progression or a competitive advantage.
The proposed legislation comes as the United States Federal Trade Commission is also in the process of investigating loot boxes, though the first leg of that inquiry, a public workshop, isn’t set to occur until this coming August. Other countries, like Belgium and the Netherlands for instance, have moved to include loot box-style monetization under gambling laws and restrict its use that way.
Hawley’s bill takes a more aggressive approach. It would specifically prohibit what he calls “manipulative design” in games targeted at players under the age of 18 and games “with wider audiences whose developers knowingly allow minor players to engage in microtransactions.”
Aside from loot boxes, the proposed bill also takes aim at pay-to-win design, which is defined by the bill as systems that “build artificial difficulty or other barriers into game progression to induce players to spend money on microtransactions” to progress, as well as microtransactions that give players an advantage in multiplayer games.
He calls out King's Candy Crush Saga as an example of that pay-to-win monetization, pointing out that the free-to-play game offers a $149 bundle, among several others, that gives paying players in-game currency, difficulty-aiding boosts, and 24 hours worth of unlimited lives.
“When a game is designed for kids, game developers shouldn’t be allowed to monetize addiction. And when kids play games designed for adults, they should be walled off from compulsive microtransactions,” said Hawley in a statement. “Game developers who knowingly exploit children should face legal consequences.”
Under the proposed bill, the burden would be placed on the FTC to enforce these rules, with violations deemed “unfair trade practices,” and give state attorneys general the power to file lawsuits against developers with offending systems in place.