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US legislator takes aim at loot boxes targeting children

Not much of an acronym, really

A Republican senator is set to introduce a bill that would restrict loot boxes and other predatory business models specifically aimed at children, as reported by GamesIndustry.biz. The "Protecting Children From Abusive Games Act" is the brain-child of Senator Josh Hawley, and would put the American FTC (Federal Trade Commission) in charge of enforcing the new rules. If this law were to pass, then games aimed at children would be outright prohibited from letting kids buy loot boxes, microtransaction currency and more, and additional restrictions would wall them off from younger buyers in other games.

While the bill as proposed targets 'pay-to-win' systems and randomised payouts specifically, it's easy to see how this could have a sudden chilling effect across the industry. While Hawley specifically cites Candy Crush on mobile devices as a particularly egregious offender (offering a $150/£115 "Best Value" bundle) full of boosters, my mind leaps to FIFA and Madden. In the UK in particular, it's not uncommon for kids to spend ungodly amounts of money on FIFA Ultimate Team card-packs to assemble fantasy football teams with virtual football cards.

Opening packs of FIFA/Madden cards is big for teen-aimed YouTubers too.

As pointed out by Gamesindustry.biz, as this bill comes from a Republican senator, it's more likely to gain bipartisan traction than anything coming from the Democrat side of the aisle. While I agree that there should be legislation preventing companies from marketing gambling-adjacent products to children, bills from right-wing parties claiming to be 'thinking of the children' don't have a great track record. Still if anything is going to force the industry to re-think the business model, it's going to be American legislation.

When asked for a statement by Gamesindustry.biz, the ESA (Entertainment Software Association) remained defiant, stating that "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." Unsurprising, after EA dug in their heels to defend FIFA loot boxes despite orders from the Belgian Gaming Commission.

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Dominic Tarason