A law should be in place in the United States to block the sale of games with “gambling mechanisms” to minors, according Hawaii state representative Chris Lee. In a YouTube video uploaded on December 5, Lee and his bill-writing partners talked about why the politician wants to take action against such games in the wake of the Star Wars: Battlefront II loot box controversy.
Lee provided the example of buying an in-game sword for $200. He’s not going after games that offer items for a set price; instead, he is taking issue when players spend real money for only a chance at getting the sword (or whatever other item it might be). He suggests this is a form of gambling, and minor is defined as someone under the age of 21.
This language is not as loaded as what he said before, describing Battlefront II as a “Star Wars-themed online casino designed to lure kids into spending money. It’s a trap.”
Before 11th hour changes, Battlefront II’s progression system was tied in part to loot boxes. Players could spend real money for loot boxes that come with items that can affect gameplay. EA faced a wave of criticism over this, and microtransactions were completely removed (temporarily). Loot boxes and microtransactions are par for the course in EA games and those from other publishers, but Battlefront II’s garnered so much criticism in part because they were tied to progression so some players felt people who paid got an advantage.
Another popular game, Overwatch, lets you buy loot boxes with real money, but you can only ever get cosmetic items that do not impact gameplay. And in China, the game displays the loot box odds for items. In GTA Online, which makes buckets of money from microtransactions, you can pay real money to get GTA$, which you can then spend on weapons, items, upgrades, and cosmetic wares.
Also in the video, Lee said “so many other legislators” from other states have spoken to him about potentially getting involved in drafting a bill that could become a law someday. Additionally, Lee referenced the Activision patent that encourages microtransactions, saying it is “absolutely unethical and unfair.” Lee acknowledged that he only knew about this from “third-hand” reports and news stories he’s seen. Activision has said this was only an exploratory patent and is not being used in any games.
Finally, Lee talked about how he is not hoping to get a law on the books in every state to combat games with what he believes are gambling mechanics. If a law can be passed in some states, this would bring more attention to his cause, and could lead to further action in other states, Lee said. And even if that doesn’t happen, if publishers have to change their games for some states to meet local laws, that might encourage them to change their games across the board so avoid that inconvenience.
It’s not just the United States where loot boxes are getting the attention of lawmakers and other agencies. French Senator Jerome Durain penned a letter to the independent agency, ARJEL, talking about his worry that microtransactions such as those in Star Wars Battlefront II could have a “deleterious” effect on the video game industry. A gambling authority in Belgium is looking into whether or not loot boxes constitute gambling. For its part, EA maintains that Battlefront II’s loot boxes “are not gambling.”
For Lee’s bill, it sounds like it is still very, very early days, so if anything ever comes of this, it might not be for a while. It is also worth noting that only around 4 percent of bills ever become law, so Lee’s legislation faces an uphill battle right from the start.
Battlefront II is out now on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC. Much of the news cycle around the game has been focused on its microtransaction system, which, though removed for now, is coming back at a later date. Management at Disney was reportedly displeased with the negative response around the game, which comes just a few weeks before the release of Star Wars: The Last Jedi.
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Author: Eddie Makuch
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