If This New Video Game Loot Box Bill Becomes Law, It Could Shake Up The Industry

Representatives from Hawaii are taking action against "predatory" games in the wake of Star Wars: Battlefront II controversy.

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[UPDATE] A spokesperson for the Entertainment Software Association told GI.biz that providing "greater awareness and transparency about the wide range of in-game experiences" is a never-ending job. The organisation added that it believes self-regulation is the right way forward as opposed to regulations from the government.

"We strongly believe that the industry's robust, self-regulatory efforts remain the most effective way to address these important issues, and that system has a proven and long record of doing so," the representative said.

"Some consumers and parents may have questions about how loot boxes work, and ESA has demonstrated a commitment to providing information to guide consumers, especially parents, in their purchase decisions."

The original story is below.

Lawmakers in Hawaii have put forth a pair of bills that, if enacted, would limit the sale of video games with "gambling mechanisms" to minors and require that loot box odds be disclosed. The bills were introduced into Hawaii's legislature recently by Democrat Chris Lee, who you may remember was the politician who called out Star Wars: Battlefront II for being "predatory."

The first bill is HB2686. It states that video game publishers have recently begun to use "predatory mechanisms" in their games that are "designed to exploit human psychology to compel players to keep spending money in the same way casino games are designed." It goes on to say that things like loot boxes--which are popular and prevalent in games today--are similar to slot machines because they let users pay money for a chance at winning something.

"One common variety of this type of predatory mechanism, known as a loot box, can present the same psychology, addictive, and financial risks as gambling," reads a line from the bill. The document goes on to note that digital stores exist where players can sell the items they acquired through loot boxes and other "gambling-like mechanisms." In turn, this gives players the ability to "effectively cash out their winnings," as they might in a casino, the author wrote.

HB2686 goes on to reference the World Health Organisation's recent announcement that "gaming disorder" is a real mental condition that requires more clinical research. "Mental health experts have raised particular concern about the exposure of youth and young adults to gambling-like mechanisms, which can affect cognitive development and lead to addiction, and to which youth and young adults are particularly vulnerable," reads a line from the bill.

This bill's main focus is to prohibit the sale of video games that include a "system of further purchasing, including randomised reward or a virtual item that can be redeemed to directly or indirectly receive a randomised reward," to people under the age of 21.

The other bill, HB2727, includes much of the same text as HB2686, but it goes further to say that video games with loot boxes should be required to making "certain disclosure[s]" about the odds that players will receive a certain item. More, specifically, this disclosure must be featured "prominently" at the time of purchase and in the game itself when loot boxes appear. If this bill becomes a law, Hawaii's Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs, potentially in conjunction with a third-party, may conduct audits on video games sold in Hawaii to ensure that accurate probability rates are disclosed clearly and transparently.

Both bills note that it is not uncommon for video games to get frequent updates after release. However, HB2727 states that "no video game publisher shall at any time modify a game to contain or otherwise permit the inclusion of additional content for which the game was not appropriately labeled at the time of original sale."

In the United States and most other parts of the world, video games generally do not disclose things like loot box odds, though regulators in China recently started enforcing this.

Bear in mind that these bills, if they become law, would only apply to games and gamers in Hawaii, whose population is only around 1.4 million. That being said, lawmakers from other states, such as Washington, have also put forth bills with similar language. Lee told GameSpot in an interview that it will be a combined effort to enact the kind of change he wants to see. Already, Lee tells us that he has seen bipartisan support for these efforts. More significantly, he said other elected officials across the country, including US Senators and members of Congress, have reached out to voice their support.

Battlefront II sold many millions of copies, but it failed to meet EA's sales expectations, a failure that the publisher attributed in part to the controversy over the game's use of mictrotransactions. Just before the game's public launch, EA removed all microtransactions from the game, but they are coming back soon.

If the new bills introduced in Hawaii and Washington, as well as other parts of the country and world, become law, it could significantly impact the world's biggest publishers such as EA, Activision, Take-Two, and others. Just recently, we learned that Activision Blizzard made $4 billion from microtransactions in 2017, while Ubisoft makes lots of money from add-on content as well. Not all of this money comes from loot boxes or what Lee and others might call "predatory" mechanics, but a portion does. So it stands to reason that these companies, and organisations that represent them in Washington--such as the ESA--would want to protect their interests. This is all to say, this is a story that we don't imagine will fade away anytime soon, but will rather pick up steam and debate in the days, weeks, and months ahead.

We will have more from our interview with Lee in the days ahead. Keep checking back with GameSpot for the latest.

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RicanV

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RicanV  Moderator

There's no reason for this and using minors as a scapegoat for government intervention is shady.

The same minors who have access to GTA and any other M rated game are the same minors who will get access to these games.

We just invited extra regulation over.... Loot boxes? Next up: the old video game violence debate !

13 • 
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Kiaininja

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@RicanV: You're missing the point. Games like GTA are accessible because the rating only goes up to M(Mature 17+) and the highest rated game stores are aloud to carry where kids buy. This bill is pushing for Loot boxes to be rate for ages 21 up which is AO(Adults Only). AO games are hardest for kids to access since most retailers won't sell it and most companies won't publish it or use their kid friendly IPs on it.

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RicanV

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Edited By RicanV  Moderator

@Kiaininja: you're assuming that retailers wouldn't go through the effort of selling an AO rated Call of Duty.

These bills solve nothing. Do you honestly think minors were the ones that contributed the most to microtransaction purchases?

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OldDadGamer

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@RicanV: Don't underestimate the amount minors spend, or how lax parents are in knowing what exactly is going on. Every week or two, one of the women at the bus stop looks at her phone and asks her daughter: "What is this charge? Did you spend money on that game again?" And that's just some silly iphone thing. There's no doubt in my mind that kids are buying loot boxes all the time.

And before anyone says "Well, that's the parent's fault," well, yes, it is to some extent. But to compare it to something else, yes, it's my responsibility to teach my kids not to smoke. I'm still glad there aren't cigarette companies using cartoony camels to try to GET my kids to smoke. I'm glad that the liquor store won't sell my kid a six pack he asks.

I'm not sure this bill will fix the problem, but there are problems to be solved.

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RicanV

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RicanV  Moderator

@olddadgamer: There are problems to be solved but we're looking for the solution in the wrong places. We have to address the problem ourselves not put band-aid after band-aid with no resolution.

The liquor store isn't selling your kids the six pack in the same manner a video game store isn't selling a minor an M rated game. Those games are purchased by a third party and then distributed to the minor. Consider all the liquor regulations in place now and it still does nothing from someone purchasing beers for a minor.

All the bills above do is introduce another avenue for governments to regulate video games. As a community are we legitimately saying, "We can't regulate our household spending so we welcome the government to do this for us." ?

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Kiaininja

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@RicanV: But Disney did go through the effort of discontinuing Slave Leia merchandising. They can still have Loots in CoD but the very least they will shy away on push it for popular kids IPs like Star Wars.

2 • 
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walbo

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@RicanV: loot boxes are slowly destroying games(creativity and single player)so I welcome it.the whole video game violence thing is old news and has been debunked many times with peer reviewed science.it's olso easy to handle as games are rated.thing is the game that started all this is aimed at kids.

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Mogan

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Mogan  Moderator

@walbo:He's saying this wont actually help anything, and just be more red tape to deal with.

We already have a system in place to limit the sale of certain video games to minors. And while you say loot boxes are destroying gaming, this bill says gambling mechanics are bad for kids. They aren't actually addressing your problem.

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RicanV

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Edited By RicanV  Moderator

@walbo: how are loot boxes destroying games?

We have way more content now than we ever did. Single player games are also flourishing with TLoU, Witcher, GoW, Ni No Kuni, HZD and more available or soon to be available.

The gross overreaction is what's hurting the industry. Let the whales be the whales. Most microtransactions are relegated to cosmetics. The big exception was SW which people are using as a means of getting into regulation.

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chiefwiggum16

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@RicanV: i hate you so much

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RicanV

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Edited By RicanV  Moderator

@chiefwiggum16: That's cool. Not everyone will love me.

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inebriantia

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@RicanV: COSMETICS MATTER! Saying they don't negates the work art and sound ppl do. If cosmetics didn't matter, we'd be fine playing as stick figures and companies wouldn't be making $15 for a horse. It dampens ppl's fun being limited to basic stuff in a game they paid $60 for.

Destiny 2 for example, shoving everything into Eververse killed the fun of playing for items. Shadow of War took the games coolest feature Orcs, and trivilized them, Overwatch wtf would I want to play as basic Zenyatta, when I could play as freaking Cthullu Zenyatta?

They're shoving loot boxes into even single player games now, and AAA single player games that are good, are becoming rare, as more and more are cancelled for live service games.

If they wanna shove loot boxes and live services into every AAA game, then they need to drop the $60 price tag. But they wont, bc $2 billion isn't good enough, they need $4 billion. They want every single nickel in our pockets and want it for the least amount of work possible.

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Attitude2000

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@inebriantia: I personally don't care if a game is fair or not. I just want to look good/sexy while I die over and over.

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RicanV

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RicanV  Moderator

@inebriantia: I can't say I've come across many people who base their enjoyment of a game on another person's ability to obtain a funny hat quicker.

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inebriantia

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@RicanV: Yes, bc no one want cosmetics, ppl don't go crazy for OW's limited time skins, there's not entire communities built around Dark Souls custom characters, or Warframe's fashionframe, or building new armor sets in Monster Hunter World.

Ppl LOVE cosmetics, ppl will put ridiculous amounts of time into a game for a special hat. Why? B/c ppl wanna set themselves apart, they spend hours making a character that reflects and identifies them.

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RicanV

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@inebriantia: that's a different animal than what you originally stated. I have no issues with people enjoying cosmetic items but to the degree where someone else's hat affects their enjoyment is not widely spoken.

That's akin to getting upset because someone has a better car than you. That's a personal issue not a gaming issue.

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inebriantia

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@RicanV: It's all the same principle bc it's linked. Ppl spend all this time and effort, and then someone gets the things they wanted bc of luck of the draw or bc they spent more. Of course, they get salty, if a douche bag lazy rich kid pulls up next you in a ferrari, and youre in your Ford PoS, working 60hr weeks uhh yeah, you get salty.

Ppl play games for fun, and to escape, not to be reminded they can't have the cool stuff yet again bc they're poor or have bad luck.

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mike468

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Edited By mike468

I don't think this is going to have the impact that everyone thinks. If it passes, game developers could simply choose not to sell thier games in Hawaii, because it doesn't pass regulation. Just like how certain game's aren't sold in certain European countries for not meeting rating regulation. Nothing wrong with missing out on 1 state.

This is a good idea in general, but it needs to be done at a federal level, or how Apple is now requiring devs to publish loot box odds on apps sold in the app store. It's going to have to come down to platform/service holder to enforce this kind of regulation for any kind of change

MS probably won't. MS themselves have moved heavily towards lootboxes dependent: Halo 5, gears 4, Forza and from what I'm hearing Sea of Thieves.

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Kiaininja

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Edited By Kiaininja

@mike468: It isn't so much that if one state has an impact but that Hawaii is setting precedents to carve way for others to follow.

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Iamkalell

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@mike468: That's exactly what will happen unless other states adopt similar laws. It will have to be a fairly large number of states for this to have any impact.

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DeadPhoenix86

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Death to Microtransaction !!!

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Mogan

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@DeadPhoenix86: That's not a hill worth dying on. Microtransactions aren't going to go away, and this bill doesn't even address them specifically. "Gambling mechanics" might get a warning label, or be added to the list of things that warrant an M rating. In Hawaii.

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Dudeman315

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@Mogan: According to the article the appropriate rating would be AO, the same a sex video games.

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Pupchu

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@DeadPhoenix86: This is hopefully the first step for that... but, now im being to hopefull probably...

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RossRichard

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All that will come of this is publishers are going to ship games without lootboxes, then patch them in a few weeks later.

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straightcur

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@RossRichard: read again

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streamline

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Arcades were predatory when I was a kid. Conned me out of all my savings because I got addicted to beating the games. I’m being sarcastic here, but I also did waste too much money on games because I got hooked on beating them.

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OldDadGamer

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@streamline: Sarcasm aside, there's no doubt that arcade designers did take cues from casinos and slot machines in ways to get people like us coming back for more. They were predatory, in their own way.

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Attitude2000

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@olddadgamer: Being overly difficult for one. It is ridiculous how hard driving games are.

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mrbojangles25

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they should eliminate it entirely, not just for minors. This plagues people of all ages.

Games should be wholesome, unadulterated, and complete products; they should not be half-finished, doled out over time, insert-credit-card-get-pointless-crap slot machines.

37 • 
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GleenCross

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@mrbojangles25: Well, guess who is the one to blame? Yes, you, me and everyone else here. The thing is... I would never imagine back in the late 90's playing my Super Nes, the ever so sacred Donkey Kong 2 (good days) that this hobby would become such a ugly mess. The internet was already working, PC had online games for ages, PS2 started to have online experiences as well, etc.. In my ingenuity, and this is the time I point fingers to everyone here, in the ingenuity of all the players I assume.. nobody expected the internet could actually destroy this hobby. Everybody was expecting something positive, a true evolution, right? And this is why the players are to blame, nobody reacted in a moderate way, everybody just waited and accepted the internet impact with open arms. Full single player expansions never sold that well on PC, this is the first sign that robust content doesn't matter. Second... Consoles didn't even tried to adapted this concept because they noticed the bad sales. Then Bethesda released that disgusting horse DLC for Oblivion. Players instead of supporting expansions and limiting their excitement with the internet, no, it was the complete inverse. Superficial multiplayer shooters and mmos everywhere, game companies noticing the patterns: how the consumers didn't cared about quality, ever since the internet took over, quantity is more important than quality in this hobby, the consumer made this clear. It's a snowball and the players were the ones who created this shithole. And in a hobby that was always designed to addict people, they add payed loot boxes for this kind of experience? That's the obvious result, we have an entire generation of addicts who wants more content and are willing to pay for this. I see nothing wrong in admitting how addictive this hobby is, I see addiction everywhere (just look at any person playing color matched puzzles in their smartphones), I suffered for some partial addiction back when Halo 2 was launched, etc.. It's a dangerous hobby that people take a blind eye for it, thinking this is childish and innocent. Far from it, really far. And the player who grew up with the industry, us, we are to blame. The new player who is being bombarded by DLCs and shit... they are just suffering collateral damage.

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Attitude2000

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Edited By Attitude2000

@gleencross: Well, guess who is the one to blame? Yes, you, me and everyone else here. The thing is... I would never imagine back in the late 90's playing my Super Nes, the ever so sacred Donkey Kong 2 (good days) that this hobby would become such a ugly mess. The internet was already working, PC had online games for ages, PS2 started to have online experiences as well, etc.. In my ingenuity, and this is the time I point fingers to everyone here, in the ingenuity of all the players I assume.. nobody expected the internet could actually destroy this hobby. Everybody was expecting something positive, a true evolution, right? And this is why the players are to blame, nobody reacted in a moderate way, everybody just waited and accepted the internet impact with open arms.

Full single player expansions never sold that well on PC, this is the first sign that robust content doesn't matter. Second... Consoles didn't even tried to adapted this concept because they noticed the bad sales. Then Bethesda released that disgusting horse DLC for Oblivion. Players instead of supporting expansions and limiting their excitement with the internet, no, it was the complete inverse.

Superficial multiplayer shooters and mmos everywhere, game companies noticing the patterns: how the consumers didn't care about quality, ever since the internet took over, quantity is more important than quality in this hobby, the consumer made this clear. It's a snowball and the players were the ones who created this shithole. And in a hobby that was always designed to addict people, they add paid loot boxes for this kind of experience? That's the obvious result, we have an entire generation of addicts who want more content and are willing to pay for this.

I see nothing wrong in admitting how addictive this hobby is, I see addiction everywhere (just look at any person playing color matched puzzles in their smartphones), I suffered from some partial addiction back when Halo 2 was launched, etc.. It's a dangerous hobby that people take a blind eye for it, thinking this is childish and innocent. Far from it, really far. And the player who grew up with the industry, us, we are to blame. The new player who is being bombarded by DLCs and shit... they are just suffering collateral damage.

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Good_Coop89

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@mrbojangles25: Sadly I think this will just be:

Game: (Pre Main Menu) Are you 18?

User: YES.

Game: Enjoy your loot boxes.

And the degradation of the best hobby in modern history continues.

8 • 
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Salt_AU

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@mrbojangles25: Absolutely. Currently playing Monster Hunter World and not a loot box in sight.

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deactivated-5aa080b4ab96f

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@mrbojangles25: I agree totally

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PETERAKO

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Shouldn't there be an information campaign too? Like these guys made billions out of people's ignorance and addictions too. It's not just the loot boxes that can be predatory.

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PauloAmistad

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What if you just ban the access to lootbox microtransactions from minors? That's a more logical and practical approach rather than banning or raising the age rating of such games.

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Edited By mdinger

@pauloamistad: Too hard to enforce. Cos you know these kids will incessantly badger their parents, some of whom are irresponsible enough to then give said minor access to their credit cards. Also it's about regulating the video game industry generally - even many adults get addicted to gambling (as you likely know). But it's just "offering player choice" I 'spose, if you're a greedy sociopathic corporation (or shill thereof). What does the word "choice" even mean to an addict? Where does "choice" end and "addiction" begin? IMO this should be something these corporations are forced to keep in mind when they're deliberately building games with gambling elements.

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OldDadGamer

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Edited By OldDadGamer  Moderator

@mdinger: Badger aside, we take for granted that responsible adults know what they're doing because we know what we're doing. I have friends, kids in fourth and sixth grade, who don't know a thing, I mean a THING about games, the internet...anything. Like, you think "How are you alive in the 21st century" kind of thing. They bought a new router. Their kid hacked it, put up a whole lot of passwords and stuff that ONLY HE KNEW and they just threw up their hands and said "What can you do, kids are so smart?"

The vast majority of parents couldn't stop their kids from doing things on computers even if they wanted to. Folks like us here are the exception, not the rule.

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J_P-

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Edited By J_P-

In case people didn't realize lock boxes were a thing in MMO's well before EA used them, and TF2 was pretty much the first multiplayer game to use them outside of MMO's but that gets a free pass for some reason.

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gotrekfabian

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@J_P-: A product or service being used in the past is not a valid reason for it to continue should it construe a malpractice now.

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Thanatos2k

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@J_P-: Asian MMOs favored lootboxes - you know, the crappy ones?

And it got so bad gacha lootboxes got regulated. So......it's coming full circle now isn't it.

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DarthBluntSaber

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Edited By DarthBluntSaber

@J_P-: halo 5 and halo wars 2 also used it, almost the exact same system as battlefront 2. Guns and special weapons were randomly awarded in loot boxes.

And while not loot boxes, rockstar/take-two aren't much better with the shark cards in gta. Things in gta are so ridiculously expensive in order to encourage people to buy fake cash in order to get that "ooo I just got something new feeling".

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leblnk

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@darthbluntsaber: Not only are Shark Cards bad, their rewards arent worth the money they're asking for them. In-game pricing is equally as bad, if not worse, than the freakin' Shark Cards.

Rockstar lost a lot of love from me these last 4 or 5 years.

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PETERAKO

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@J_P-: They stayed within some boundaries though. But valve didn't really escape scrutiny after the whole skin gambling fiasco. Anyway, When WB and then ultimately EA pushed their luck, the ceiling had fallen, revealing the broader rot.

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