Legislator Makes First Moves To Regulate In-Game Purchases

The loot box controversy continues to grow as Hawaii state representative Chris Lee announced that he’s already made the first steps to legislate in-game purchases.

A week ago, in our report on the fallout of the Star Wars Battlefront II loot box controversy, we linked a video of Hawaii state representative Chris Lee’s conference. We didn’t comment on it then, but in it, Lee called Battlefront II a “'Star Wars'-themed online casino designed to lure kids into spending money.” His focus was on what he called the “predatory practice” of selling loot boxes and announced that he was looking into legislation that would forbid the sale of games with such sales models to minors.

Lee later released a second video announcing his plans to take viewers behind the scenes of the legislation he is building. The video revealed that Lee is more nuanced in his understanding of the video game industry than one might expect from his title. Lee specifically mentions pay-to-win models, which gives us hope that he isn’t just seeking blanket regulation of microtransactions. Loot boxes are a form of microtransaction, but so are things like unique skins or premium content in single-player games.

In his most recent video, Lee showed that he’s sticking to his plans, both for legislating and showing us the legislative process (or at least some of it). It seems Lee is currently focusing on two points: restricting the sale of games with “gambling mechanisms” to minors and bringing disclosure to such mechanisms where they exist. The first point is the easier one to interpret. We can imagine a new 21-and-up rating that all games with loot boxes become automatically classified as. The second point brings to mind recent Chinese legislation that forces games to reveal the odds behind their loot boxes. To this point, Lee said the following:

This is third-hand so I gotta verify this, but you can go in and once the algorithm identifies a player who’s likely to keep spending money to buy that one unicorn thing that they’re after, then their chances get lowered...

We don't think either of Lee’s points are particularly alarming (as long as you’re over 21). Lee isn’t seeking a blanket ban on loot boxes, so those who enjoy the thrill of opening them will still have that chance. It’s also encouraging to know that Lee is discerning in his definition of “gambling practices,” of which he said the following:

If you were to buy a $200 sword in a videogame, but you knew that you were getting that sword, that would not fall under the definition. But if you were going to spend $200 to buy a percentage chance to get a certain sword…

Though Lee says that the response from fellow and other state representatives has been tremendous, he doesn’t necessarily expect that any actual legislation will be passed. Instead, he hopes that an ongoing narrative of the issue within the legislative space will be enough to pressure game makers to move on their own. Lee thinks that the threat of losing the under-21 market is too great of a risk for them. If a quote from EA is to believed, this might actually be happening already. At the 37th Nasdaq Investor Conference, EA’s Blake Jorgensen said that it is still investigating how to bring microtransactions back to Star Wars Battlefront II, if at all.

  • kuhndj67
    Sweet... maybe with enough countries and localities creating law around these practices it'll get so expensive for companies to comply that the whole crappy idea will die the ignoble death it deserves.
  • phobicsq
    Ugh, loot boxes aren't the only issue. It's the model that publishers have been using for years now which is releasing a 60 dollar game unfinished and then making people pay money for unlockable content. The season passes and skins are all the same.
  • berezini.2013
    Greed rules today's society. Learn to cope with it.
  • Honis
    I disagree that lootboxes are like gambling. In gambling you put your money in and run the chance of losing all of said money. With lootboxes, you put your money in and purchase an item (either ingame money, a loot box that grants a different item, a key, some kind of boost effect, etc.) The loot box model is way closer to a Magic the Gathering (or similar random card booster pack) model. Someone could buy boxes of booster packs and never get the rare (or even common) card they want to get.

    My point is, this system is not new to video games or child entertainment and the government regulating it now will have far reaching consquences in other gaming related industries.

    It would be far better for people to start wallet voting instead of tossing money at games with these practices.
  • coolitic
    This is stupid, some people are fine with loot boxes. You don't have to buy the game if you don't want to (I didn't).
  • ohnen117
    Good. I'm sick of these games not disclosing the chances you have to get certain items. There should also be some sort of code verification system in place that can confirm the code isn't being manipulated on a daily bases against the player to produce profits.
  • realdealbearsfan
    this is all fine and dandy but as soon as the greedy gaming companies start slipping brown envelopes full of money his way he'll change his stanceAMERICAN CAPITALISM at its best,its ruined everything in the entertainment dept.Look at the NHL,NFL ect ect.i paid $130 for this star wars game and thats not enough in these greedy pigs minds!