Feds might ban loot boxes and pay-to-win games

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A bill headed to the Senate would block in-app purchases from being necessary to win a game.
Photo: Jam City

Some of the methods developers use to get players to pay for “free” games would be outlawed by legislation proposed today in the U.S. Senate.

The act would ban games played by children from offering items only as in-app purchases that are actually required to win.

The Protecting Children from Abusive Games Act (PCAGA) was proposed by Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) this morning. It would affect games that target minors under 18, or ones with a wide audience that children also play, such as Fortnite.

The end of pay-to-win

Apple’s App Store and the Android equivalent contain thousands of games that can be downloaded for free. Developers make their money by offering in-game items purchased with real money. These are supposed to be optional, but unscrupulous companies design games so that they can only be won using purchased items.

Hawley‘s act would outlaw “Manipulation of a game’s progression system — typically by building artificial difficulty or other barriers into game progression — to induce players to spend money on microtransactions to advance through content supposedly available to them at no additional cost.”

Many games have player-versus-player battles. PCAGA would make it illegal to give “competitive advantages” to items that can only be obtained with in-app purchases.

No more loot boxes

While pay-to-win is something done in secret, many games openly offer loot boxes. These are in-game purchases that man consider gambling — the box might contain something great, or it might have junk.

These would also be banned by Hawley proposed legislation, which describes them as “Microtransactions offering randomized or partially randomized rewards to players.”

The lawmaker has not not yet introduced his bill to the Senate. Whether it will pick up broad support from other legislators is unknown.

Gaming industry response

Stanley Pierre-Louis, acting president and CEO of the Entertainment Software Association, told Variety that the proposed legislation is unnecessary. “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.”

He also kind out that several countries have already ruled that loot boxes aren’t a form of gambling. Pierre-Louis didn’t bring up the other countries that have already outlawed them as a form of gambling.

The recently-announced Apple Arcade service brings access to hundreds of games in which any kind of in-app purchase is banned. Developers would get their money by players paying monthly subscription fees.