The Protecting Children from Abusive Games Act was announced by Senator Josh Hawley of Missouri on May 8, 2019 and will take aim at games “whose developers knowingly allow minor players to engage in microtransactions.”
Hawley has only announced the bill and will introduce it to the Senate soon. In a press release, the Senator’s staff gave Activision game Candy Crush as an example, which features a $150 “Luscious Bundle” that gives players all kinds of in-game currency, boosts and more.
Will loot boxes in Apex and Overwatch be illegal?
If the bill is passed it could apply to games like Overwatch and Apex Legends that have loot boxes and other ways for players to spend real money on in-game items.
Neither Apex or Overwatch feature so-called “pay to win” microtransactions, but both give players the option to spend real money on in-game cosmetics or loot boxes.
Both Apex and Overwatch feature loot boxes. In Apex, players receive a total of 45 free loot boxes from levels 1-100 and after that they have to buy any more they want.
Overwatch gives players a free loot box every level but also offers Overwatch League Tokens, which can be used to purchase more unique cosmetics from OWL teams. These are given to players for free if they link a Blizzard account to Twitch and watch Overwatch League, but they can just buy them as well.
“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,” Hawley said in a press release about the bill. “Game developers who knowingly exploit children should face legal consequences.”
What’s been the industry response?
After Hawley announced the bill the Entertainment Software Association, the lobbyist group for the video game industry, released the following statement:
“Numerous countries, including Ireland, Germany, Sweden, Denmark, Australia, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom, determined that loot boxes do not constitute gambling. 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. Parents already have the ability to limit or prohibit in-game purchases with easy to use parental controls.”
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Last Fall, the United States Federal Trade Commission promised to investigate loot boxes after a letter from Senator Maggie Hassan who said loot boxes and microtransactions were now “endemic” in the gaming industry.
It still remains to be seen how much support The Protecting Children from Abusive Games Act will get in the Senate, so loot boxes in Overwatch and Apex are safe, for the time being at least.