U.S. Senator Proposes Bill to Ban Lootboxes

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nicksmi56

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#1  Edited By nicksmi56

Apparently this bill would ban lootboxes and pay-to-win microtransactions in 'games played by minors' (under 18).

Here is the source.

Does this bill have a chance of making real change in the gaming industry? Is such a thing even necessary to begin with? What do you think? Personally, this doesn't seem to ban anything I'll miss and could do a world of good so I'm for it at first glance.

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TheRealTurk

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#2  Edited By TheRealTurk

I haven't been able to find the actual text of the proposed bill yet, just the summary page he sent out.

But based on that, this doesn't seem like it would do very much. As always, the devil's in the details - and there's plenty of wiggle room in the summary that I'm sure the industry stooges over at the ESA would be happy to exploit. Here's the high-level summary of what the law attempts to target:

  • Games targeted at those under the age of 18 as determined b the subject matter, visual content, and other indicators similar to those used to determine the applicability of the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA).

COPPAs a bit much to dig into on these forums, but the standards it uses to determine when something is "targeted" at an age group can be foundhere. I won't claim any particular expertise with COPPA, but looking over its standards there is, as I said, plenty of wiggle room.

  • Games with wider audiences whose developers knowingly allow minor players to engage with microtransactions.

That might seem straight forward enough, but "knowingly" is a legal term of art. It's typically taken to mean something along the lines of "acting consciously or with knowledge or complete understanding of the facts or circumstances." I could easily foresee a situation where an AG sues a developer under this law only to have them hide behind the ERSB rating and in-game disclaimer - "But the box SAID it was for 18 and up and we had a DISCLAIMER on it! We didn't KNOW the parents wouldn't set parental controls. We can't be responsible if they didn't!"

Like I said, the devil's in the details. Personally, I think it would be better to just up and ban them altogether hook, line, and sinker. To me, this smells like a law that gets put out the door so this guy can claim he's "thinking of the kids" while taking ESA money on the side to draft something nearly impossible to enforce.

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DasaKamov

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#3  Edited By DasaKamov

"The Entertainment Software Association, the video game industry lobbyist group, sent over a statement shortly after this bill was introduced: 'Numerous countries, including Ireland, Germany, Sweden, Denmark, Australia, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom, determined that loot boxes do not constitute gambling.'"

Thanks for the red herring, industry lobbyists, but you forgot to mention that Belgium and the Netherlands already passed laws which outlawed lootboxes outright, and "numerous countries", including Austria, France, Latvia, Norway and Portugal had signed a "declaration of concern" regarding lootboxes-as-gambling and pledging further investigation :b

Anyway, interesting read. My guess is the author of the proposed legislation only specified minors in order to avoid the majority of "the government can't tell ME how to play video games" arguments.

As with everything, true change will come from the citizens themselves; the only way pay-to-win lootboxes will truly disappear is if people decide they're not worth the monetary and psychological costs. Still, keeping the topic in people's awareness is not a bad thing.

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IEEE_GB

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The gaming industry and the large corporations are simply doing what capitalism /shareholders demand: make as much money as possible in whatever way you can regardless of the workers, customers, or ethics. Personally I use this subject to introduce young (men generally) into economic theory and hopefully this awareness can also be used to move them away from other toxic aspects of the gaming community like the disdain towards feminists and minorities or even better awareness of workers' rights and unions

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notnert427

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"Won't somebody please think of the children?"

I support this in theory. Loot boxes are absolutely gambling, and teaching children to gamble/exploiting them is pretty damn messed up.

In reality, this is likely very much a politician just wanting to be able to say "look how much I care" more than actually caring, and the efficacy of it would likely be limited. I expect whatever measure could come from this would be just about as effective in keeping kids from lootboxes as the ESRB putting an M rating on games is at preventing kids from playing them, which is to say not at all.

The only way this may "work" is if they were to get heavy-handed in the subjective determination of what qualifies as a game that kids are playing to the point that companies would be penalized monetarily for breaking this law. Except even in that scenario, lawyers would be lining up to make the easy case that the publishers didn't knowingly sell loot boxes to kids, as @therealturk said.

Realistically, the potential winners of this are politicians and lawyers, and likely not the kids. Maybe it would indirectly dissuade publishers from loot crates due to the hassle of having to hire lawyers to defend their inclusion of them.

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interlude

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Being from Missouri, Josh Hawley is a pretty well know shitheel. I was surprised to see him presenting something I mostly agree with, so it makes me already pretty cautious.

The law seems to implement a system were we will have to send identification to verify our age.

Do I really wanna send EA/ACT/everyone else my passport or full id, because some people can't control their spending habits or children? I'm sorry but f*ck that.

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Fink

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I thought the point of the ESRB was "Either you do something, or we will"

They were formed in part because of the congressional hearing about Mortal Kombat.

Ya done fucked up ESRB.

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Daibakuha

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We should be very careful in what we wish to happen versus what might happen. No one really likes loot boxes, but there is a difference between not liking something and wishing it should be regulated by the federal government.

I'm not sure I'd support a piece of legislation that banned any form of content from a video game, regardless of whether or not I agreed with it. My stance on loot boxes has been to let the markets decide what they want. For the most part it's working, predatory loot boxes are still a thing, but companies are moving away from them.

Regardless I doubt this passes, and if it does I doubt it'll hold up under the scrutiny of the courts.

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nutter

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#9  Edited By nutter

Government isn’t the answer.

At the same time, fuck loot boxes. While I’m here, knee deep in the cess pool of video games, fuck Fortnite, fuck Epic, and fuck selling $15 skins to children.

Fuck all parties involved in this regulation of shitting gaming practices, actually.

Goddamnit, gaming got shitty this gen...I’m going to go yell at the clouds before it’s too dark to see them...

Edit: Fuck streamers, too...

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tds418

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#10  Edited By tds418

Still a long way to go before this becomes law. A very good chance it won't, especially since it seems the issue has fallen out of the media spotlight at least some.

That being said, presumably any T-rated game offering loot boxes would seem to fall under the legislation's purview. Just off the top of my head, that would include Overwatch, Fortnite, Apex, Destiny...a lot of big titles.

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FrostyRyan

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......

There are more pressing issues

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soulcake

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#12  Edited By soulcake

As some who lives in Belgium, banning of lootboxes ain't that bad.

And i never got a "You can't play this game cause you live in Belgium" EA and other Companys just change there store so it's kind of a win win for me BAN ALL THE (paid)LOOTBOXES!

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dudeglove

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Congrats to unfettered capitalist greed for not just ruining the design of games but games overall. Actiblizz, EA, and other AAA pubs had multiple, multiple opportunities to address the problem they themselves created before it got to this point but instead fell back on the time-tested method of "do it anyway and apologize later" (because that's how these companies work - the long term doesn't matter; short term quarterly profit does). Doesn't help that the people running the ESRB are also figures at said companies, so of course they wouldn't lobby for such a bill.

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FacelessVixen

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"I told you so." ~ Jim Sterling

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notnert427

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#15  Edited By notnert427

Congrats to unfettered capitalist greed for not just ruining the design of games but games overall. Actiblizz, EA, and other AAA pubs had multiple, multiple opportunities to address the problem they themselves created before it got to this point but instead fell back on the time-tested method of "do it anyway and apologize later" (because that's how these companies work - the long term doesn't matter; short term quarterly profit does). Doesn't help that the people running the ESRB are also figures at said companies, so of course they wouldn't lobby for such a bill.

I don't know that this stuff is quite as borne of "greed" as you might think. The cost of developing games has gone up, while the cost of games on the shelves has not. That gap has to be recouped somewhere. A few years back, the way they tried to do it was through DLC, but people balked when they started putting meaningful content as DLC, so then DLC became more side content, at which point people stopped seeing value in it and stopped buying it. In need to new ways of generating income from games, lootboxes became the thing. (I don't like lootcrates, either, FWIW.)

The price point for games should actually be about $80 these days. I actually wouldn't mind paying that if it meant the end of lootboxes and other questionable efforts to reach into gamer's wallets for money beyond the retail price. We as gamers can't demand multiple versions of games optimized for both PCs and consoles of varying power from low-end all the way up to 4K HDR, consistently wait to purchase games only when they go on sale, and then get all pissy when publishers try to find other ways to generate income from games. I don't have the numbers, but I imagine the average price games actually sell at over their lifespan is somewhere around $40.

Let's take, say, Hitman 2 as an example. Successor to this very website's 2016 GOTY. Critically well-received. From a respected and newly independent studio that people should probably want to support. The reported sales figures out there for its launch window were roughly 200k. Let's assume it has sold more than that since, say, 500k total at a price of $60 to account for both people buying the deluxe editions and people who waited for a sale. That's $30,000,000 in sales revenue. IOI downsized from 200 employees when Squeenix kicked them to the curb, so let's say 150 people work there now. You're looking at $200k/employee, which equates to roughly three years of a decent salary of $66K. Assuming IOI employees get benefits, that max salary drops to $50K/employee with only three years of employment viable. And this doesn't even account for their expenses related to advertising, distribution, facilities, etc. I'm sure WB is helping absorb some costs, but the point is that it's not tough to see how even good games can fail to generate the kind of income needed.

It's easy to blame "corporate greed" and call it a day. It's tougher for gamers to own our own role in lootboxes. If we're going to expect games to remain $60 forever while development costs continue to increase or "wait for sales", then we can't really raise a fuss when publishers have to try to create additional revenue streams, even when they're shitty ones like lootcrates.

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MonkeyKing1969

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#16  Edited By MonkeyKing1969

No age restrictions needed, just have the outside box have on the front in 14pt font: "Real Gambling: Player can gamble with real currency" on it. (That is an ESRB descriptor already). If a game has loot boxes, but they had to put "Real Gamboling: Player can gamble with real currency" that practice would end.

------------------------------------------------------------------
But you want to know what would really help gamers/players?

Gamers have to realize ESRB is not for them, it for corporations. If gamers want protection and advocacy they need a ESPA - Entertainment Software Players Association. This is a lobbying arm that protects gamers directly. A U.S. non-profit organization that advocates for gamer rights in regards to financials, physical, and emotional well-being in US law. So, they have a defined 'lane' for their acocacy, they not there to lobby for 'free stickers in the box' or a 'return to full-color manuals' in the box. No, they are there to advocate for financial, physical and emotional well-being of gamers. Advocating for gamers with legislative arms of governments and advocating for gamers with to ESRB. Just to be safe and soe everyone part fo teh group is on teh same page they should be clear they are for certain idea: LGBTQ; non bullying; inclusivity of gender, ethnicity, culture in the workplace; and specifully for adult gamers over the age of 18. So, they are NOT there to: "think of the children", "kink shame"; or promote "religious family values".

Think about ist NRA shifted a WHOLE LOT of public opinion and regulation because ist has memebersand dollars to back up its lobbying, right? Gamers could fight ESRB and big corporation in the same way. About 67% of Americans, or roughly 211 million people, play video games on at least one type of device, with more than half of those who game, playing on multiple platforms. So let imagine that only 30% of those 211 million gave $30 or up for membership in ESPA. That is a lobbying organization with $1,899,000,000. Yeah, I think an Entertainment Software Players Association would wield a influence for player rights with such strong resources to throw at lobbying.

And, as I said above they are not there for kids, shaming, or religious doctrine values. This advocacy group is good for fighting Focus on the Family; National Institute on Media; and the Family, Parents Television Council (PTC). There are MANY organizations & nonprofits fighting against gamers and adult gamers...it maybe time to push back a little.

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burncoat

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@notnert427: I think people will stop complaining about corporate greed (don't know why you put greed in quotation marks as if there's some other kind of greed) when CEOs stop getting paid 300 times the median company wage or when despite record profits they lay off over 800 people.

Lootboxes aren't a way to reduce the specter of a "cost gap", they're there to milk money and generate value for shareholders. There are multiple ways to reduce or ease the increasing cost of game making that doesn't involve blind box gambling and if we saw these companies making steps towards those measures instead of doubling down, I think we'd see the "corporate greed" talk die down.

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notnert427

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#18  Edited By notnert427

@burncoat said:

@notnert427: I think people will stop complaining about corporate greed (don't know why you put greed in quotation marks as if there's some other kind of greed) when CEOs stop getting paid 300 times the median company wage or when despite record profits they lay off over 800 people.

Lootboxes aren't a way to reduce the specter of a "cost gap", they're there to milk money and generate value for shareholders. There are multiple ways to reduce or ease the increasing cost of game making that doesn't involve blind box gambling and if we saw these companies making steps towards those measures instead of doubling down, I think we'd see the "corporate greed" talk die down.

I put greed in quotation marks because it seems like some people equate a company turning a profit with greed. Also, personal greed is absolutely a thing. Gamers expecting better and better games at the same or reduced cost is a form of greed as well, so we need to point the finger in the mirror for that mindset just the same.

I'm not about to sit here and defend the inclusion of loot crates in the Call of Dutys of the gaming world, but I'm also trying to acknowledge current realities of game development. There are only a handful of games that are somewhat guaranteed to sell well. A great many studios are a flop away from going under. Yeah, behemoth publishers like Activision Blizzard, EA, etc. aren't going anywhere and many of them have overpaid asshole CEOs. However, many studios under them operate under a degree of self-sufficiency.

It's how a studio like IOI gets axed even when they make a GOTY. HITMAN is goddamn fantastic, but it wasn't that much of a sales darling and didn't feature a bunch of the lootcrate crap you see in other games. That full game sold for $60 at launch for content/quality that FAR exceeded that value. The few attempts they tried to make at generating revenue beyond that like charging $5 or $10 more for buying episodes piecemeal and having DLC content were whined about to no end to the point that people tanked the Steam reviews of the game, which surely didn't help overall sales. That's the kind of shit that devs have to worry about from us as gamers, and it's what precipitates financial security blanket measures like lootboxes.

What methods do you propose for reducing (or offsetting increases of) the cost of game development? Paying devs less? Making devs work more? Putting out half-assed games? Gamers sure seem to consider all of these things to be absolutely unacceptable, and we don't want lootboxes, and we don't want the retail cost of games to increase. So I'm legitimately curious as to how people think video games should try to generate revenue beyond this current price point that's becoming increasingly untenable. As far as I can tell, we pretty much reject any and all efforts games make at generating more revenue while expecting more and more from games, yet we have the audacity to call the industry out for its greed.

By all means, though, if you've got an ethical revenue solution that the gaming community would happily accept, I, and every game developer would love to hear it.

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pappafost

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What I worry about is people pinning all of society's problems on video games, the easiest scapegoat around. Why are school shootings happening? Video games. Why are our children messed up? Video games.

Our society is has complex problems that will require complex solutions to fix. It's easier just to reach for something easy. The perfect example is Prince Harry wanting to ban Fortnite. Or the Chinese government banning PUBG. It's something easy to do that will have no real effect on society's complex problems.

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reap3r160

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#20  Edited By reap3r160

All this does is bump up games that werent' rated M, that had microtransactions, to being rated M.....

This, as the ESRB system has shown, will have ZERO effect on kids. As with all things, it's up to the parents, laws and guidelines can't do ANYTHING. If anything it's just another scare tactic to make video games seem like some cultivator of evil...

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nutter

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@daibakuha: I think I first realized we were fucked when Gears of War 3 launched.

Selling 1,000 tiny palette-swap guns was both brilliant and a horrible point of no return. These weren’t loving crafted. They were cheap and fast to make and sold for next to nothing. It wouldn’t take very many buyers to turn a profit and the entry cost was low enough to ensure at least a decent sales pool...

It was far less insidious than $15 Fortnite skins, but it felt like the start of a terrible new business model.

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Efesell

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#22 Efesell  Online

Kinda wish it wasn't Josh Hawley...

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thegame983

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It would be hilarious to see Fifa with a M rating.

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jakob187

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#25  Edited By jakob187

Can we propose a bill to ban senator elections? It's basically like opening a loot box anyways.

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hermes

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I really can't defend the gaming industry in this. They knew what was happening, they knew the risk, they just didn't care...

People has been saying there should be some control or restrain over microtransactions and lootboxes, some line not to cross, yet the industry didn't care, they were making money out of gamifing betting using casino level physiological traps and selling it to everyone in reach. Don't show how much people have spent, don't publish the odds of getting something they want, don't give them ways to get what they want unless relaying on luck, design the menu so that you don't put the access to the purchasable goods more than a few clicks away at all times, touch the numbers of your "random generator" to make it harder to get things while making them more prominent for people playing, put as few hops as posible to verify the identity of peoples accounts...

We all knew the AGA would have to draw some lines in the sand or the government would get involved when someone when too far or too noticeable. When CEOs boasted aboutall the moneymicrotransactions gave them, while stories about kids spending thousands on parents money without them realizing kept piling up, legislators were due to pay attention. Yet the gaming association always had a pro-publisher approach to everything, they just gave them carte blanche to do as they pleased, never considering the consumers, and in the way they failed their mission. They were created to self-regulate the industry, under the believe that letting a government that doesn't understand it would do more harm than good... when, they didn't regulate squat, and now a government that doesn't understand the industry is likely going to come and do more harm than good, and I can't really blame them for it because the people that were paid to prevent this situation did nothing at all.

Do I think the bill will do more harm than good, at least until they find another legal hole? Yes. Do I think it will lack nuance to distinguish the more egregious ones from those that barely qualify? Definitely. Do I think it is unfair that it will affect disproportionally the developers and small studios more than the big names and executives? Absolutely. But, do I think it the proposal was uncalled for? Not really. Do I think the government has no business getting into this? Hmmm, no. If they failed to act responsibly and regulate themselves, someone will force them to. And in this case, there is no one but the government. The same way I think a person being mauled by an wild animal is a tragedy, I can't be mad at the wild animal if that person was prancing around it.

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Shindig

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It would be hilarious to see Fifa with a M rating.

Finally, a reason to put some proper chants in.

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Nicholas_Attano

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Watch out EA. lol