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US Senator to propose bill against manipulative game design

Published: 18:13, 08 May 2019
Blizzard
The standard loot box in Overwatch
Overwatch - Loot Box

US Senator Josh Hawley has announced that he will be introducing a bill to ban manipulative design features in games that have underage audiences, which includes the sales of loot boxes. A bit late perhaps, but better late than never.

"Social media and video games prey on user addiction, syphoning our kids' attention from the real world and extracting profits from fostering compulsive habits", Hawley told The Verge.

If the bill is passed, games targeted at children under the age of 18 would not be able to peddle loot boxes, but even those aimed at wider audiences could suffer some penalties.

Of course, such a move is bound to rid some companies of profits, but Hawley isn't at all concerned about it.

"No matter this business model’s advantages to the tech industry, one thing is clear: there is no excuse for exploiting children through such practices", he said.

According to Hawley's proposal, determining whether the game is aimed at children would be performed by regulators, who would rely on indicators they use under the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act, the game's subject matter and visual content.

The bill would also include making any pay-to-win mechanics illegal, which includes spending money to advance faster through a game.

“When a game is designed for kids, game developers shouldn’t be allowed to monetize addiction [...] And when kids play games designed for adults, they should be walled off from compulsive microtransactions. Game developers who knowingly exploit children should face legal consequences.", Hawley concluded.

The US Federal Trade Commission has vowed to look into the matter and will be looking into loot boxes in August , although that too sounds like leaving it a bit too late.

Granted, it's highly unlikely that loot boxes will disappear by August, what with them being incredibly lucrative, but most major game companies have already started getting rid of them, especially after Belgian judiciary, ahem, encouraged them to.

AltChar Loot box from Overwatch on the Belgian flag Belgium, Loot Box

Coincidentally, recent research by the University of British Columbia has found a firm link between loot boxes and gambling , so it seems like that money well will be running dry pretty soon.

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