Weeks ago, Senator Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) released an outline for The Protecting Children from Abusive Games Act aimed at stopping randomized loot boxes and pay-to-win mechanisms in the gaming industry. Today, Hawley was joined by Ed Markey (D-Mass.) and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) in the formal submission of that bill in the Senate, complete with an 18-page draft of the bill.
Perhaps the most interesting part of the bill is trying to define the so-called “pay-to-win” mechanics in games. They are broadly defined herein as purchaseable content that “assists a user to achieve an in-game achievement that could otherwise be achieved without purchasing such transaction” or that “allows a user to continue accessing content from the game that was previously made accessible to the user, but was made inaccessible after the expiration of a timer or a number of game attempts.”
For multiplayer games, this also includes any in-game content purchaseable that “provides a competitive advantage from a reasonable user’s perspective”.
As for loot boxes, the law focuses on games where the in-game content to be purchased is random or partially random. This includes games where you buy one item for the chance to buy unknown or random items in the future, closing a potential loophole before it even starts.
Any games that meet the above definitions would be illegal to publish or sell under the law, provided those games were found to be “minor-oriented” (based on guidelines similar to those in COPPA) or that publishers had “constructive knowledge” that some players were under the age of 18. The FTC and the state attorneys general would have the power to enforce the law through civil sanctions, and the FTC would be required to release a compliance report within two years of its approval.
“The responsibility should lie with developers to discourage the consumption of products by children that promote gambling and similar compulsive buying behaviors, as is the case in other industries that restrict access to certain types of products and entertainment to adult consumers,” he said. a frequently asked question. into the account of Hawley’s office.
Huge potential reach
The expanded definitions of prohibited content in this law would have far-reaching implications for the entire gaming industry. In mobile gaming, ultra popular mobile titles from Candy Crush Saga until clash of clansand countless games in between, use gameplay timers and in-game items to make progress almost self-explanatory.
Separately, large games ranging from FIFA until overwatch today rely on randomized loot boxes for the vast majority of their revenue. Rulings against loot boxes in Belgium and the Netherlands have forced major publishers to stop selling games in those countries. But the United States is an overwhelmingly larger market where similar bans can have a much greater effect on these publishers’ bottom line.
“These are very resourceful people, and I’m sure they can design games that don’t rely on gambling aimed at kids in the middle of the game,” Sen said. Hawley to Kotaku in a recent interview.
Today’s introduction brings legislation on these issues one step closer to reality. But similar legislation will also have to be passed in the House and survive the likely committee hearings and flagging in both chambers before it can even come to a full vote by all lawmakers and possible signature by the president.
“Certainly, the reception we received from parents [and] from gamers has been absolutely amazing,” Hawley told Kotaku about the prospects for the bill’s approval. (Senator Hawley did not respond to a request for comment from Ars Technica)
Lobby groups including Focus on the Family, Common Sense Media, the Parents Television Council and the Campaign for Commercial-Free Childhood issued a statement in support of the bill.
The bill’s introduction comes after Senator Maggie Hassan (DN.H.) separately urged the FTC early last year to investigate loot box regulation. The FTC plans to hold a workshop on the matter later in 2019.
Update 6:45 PM ET: Entertainment Software Association CEO Stanley Pierre-Louis issued this statement regarding the Senators’ proposal:
This legislation is flawed and full of inaccuracies. It does not reflect how video games work or how our industry strives to deliver innovative and engaging entertainment experiences to our audience. The impact of this bill would be far-reaching and ultimately detrimental to the player experience, not to mention the more than 220,000 Americans employed by the video game industry. We encourage the bill’s co-sponsors to work with us to raise awareness about the tools and information available to put control of video game play and in-game spending in the hands of parents. rather than in the hands of the government.