Earlier this month we reported that a US Senator is attempting to ban loot boxes. Republican Senator Josh Hawley is drafting a bill which he hopes to introduce to the Senate soon. The bill would outlaw loot boxes as well as pay-to-win microtransactions in most situations. The bill bans developers from including either in games aimed at children, but it goes further. Developers would need to take additional steps to ensure they aren’t knowingly allowing minors to make in-game purchases. Unsurprisingly, the ESA is not happy about this proposed law.
Update: This article originally stated that both the ESA and EA were described as concerned by Hawley and his staff. As you’ll see below, Senior policy advisor Jacob Reses first describes the ESA as such. The conversation then shifts to EA specifically, and Hawley repeats the sentiment. After speaking with involved parties, I can now clarify that Hawley intended to refer to the ESA in the second instance. Hawley did not intend to call EA concerned, but instead was stating that the ESA is concerned on the behalf of the industry, including EA. The article has been updated appropriately.
Kotaku’s Jason Schreier recently interviewed Senator Hawley to get more details about the bill. Hawley explained that he and his children do not play video games, but they’ve heard many concerns from parents. During the talk, he repeatedly compared loot boxes and pay-to-win mechanics to casinos. Hawley’s bill focuses on children (It’s called “The Protecting Children from Abusive Games Act”) because he sees them as “uniquely vulnerable.”
After Hawley laid out his reasoning, Schreier asked about the Senator’s contact with industry leaders. That’s when Hawley confirmed there has been pushback from concerned parties.
The ESA isn’t happy
Schreier: Have you been in conversations with the ESA, the video games lobbyist group, or any other video game companies about how this might impact them?
Hawley: Yes, yes we have.
Schreier: Can you describe the nature of those conversations?
Senior policy advisor Jacob Reses: This is Jacob here. I think it’s fair to say the industry has concerns about this… We’ve been trying to be very transparent with them, but there may be some difference of opinion.
Hawley: Jacob’s being very diplomatic.
Schreier: Yes, any elaboration you can make here? I ask because I pay a lot of attention to these financial calls that these companies have, and EA for example is very reliant on the loot box income that comes in from FIFA games. A lot of these companies are very reliant on this stuff.
Hawley: And FIFA would indeed be covered by this legislation, to be clear. They’ve certainly expressed their, shall we say, concern over this legislation. But I think that’s probably a good indication that we’re getting somewhere.
Hawley and Reses both describe the ESA as “concerned,” while hinting that they’re greatly downplaying the situation. I’d imagine executives at major game publishers are fuming. Electronic Arts previously had to remove loot boxes from their games in Belgium, but the United States is a much larger market.
As Schreier points out, this could be a major blow to their finances. He went on to question how Hawley and others would react if publishers accused them of crashing the industry. Hawley was unconcerned, stating “I’m sure they can design games that don’t rely on gambling directed at children in the center of the game.”