US Senator Takes Aim At Predatory Loot Boxes And Microtransactions
A Senator from New Hampshire wants the ESRB to look into loot boxes and potentially put a disclaimer on video game boxes.
United States Senator Maggie Hassan (D-NH) is taking aim at microtransactions in video games, asking the ESRB to review things like loot boxes and decide whether or not use of loot boxes needs to be displayed on a game box. In a letter to ESRB president Patricia Vance, Hassan started off by saying the issue was brought to her attention by a constituent.
With the changes to technology that come in a field as dynamic as video games, the ESRB "must work to keep pace with new gaming trends, including the in-game microtransactions and predatory gaming tactics, particularly as they are deployed on minors," Hassan wrote, according to Glixel.
The former governor of New Hampshire added that loot boxes raise "several concerns" regarding the "use of psychological principles and enticing mechanics that closely mirror those often found in casinos and games of chance.
"The potential for harm is real."
Hassan went on to point out that the World Health Organisation recently announced that "gaming disorder" has been classified as a medical condition on the group's latest Classification of Diseases document. She added that what makes loot boxes more problematic is that they can be targeted at children.
"While there is robust debate over whether loot boxes should be considered gambling, the fact that they are both expensive habits and use similar psychological principles suggest loot boxes should be treated with extra scrutiny," she said. "At minimum, the rating system should denote when loot boxes are utilized in physical copies of electronic games."
Hassasn added that she is urging the ESRB to review its policies around loot boxes and, in future ratings, take the "potential harm" that loot boxes could have on children into consideration. She went on to say that the ESRB should look into whether or not the marketing of loot boxes in video games aimed at children is being done in an "ethical and transparent way that adequately protects the developing minds of young children from predatory practices."
What's more, Hassan said the ESRB should work with "relevant stakeholders" to put together and ultimately publish data regarding how video games use loot boxes, how commonplace they are, and how much money is spent on them. Lastly, Hassan said the ESRB should put together a "best practices" document that developers can look at in an effort to make loot boxes "less essential to core gameplay."
Hassan asked the four FTC commissioner nominees about loot boxes in a hearing this week. You can see a video of that embedded above.
The ESRB's official line is that loot boxes do not constitute gambling and as such should not have to be regulated by the government. Of course, not everyone agrees. Just recently, lawmakers in Hawaii put forth a pair of bills that would ban the sale of video games with "gambling-like mechanisms" to people under 21. Bills with similar language have been introduced in other states, including Washington and Indiana.
This is a developing and ongoing story, so keep checking back with GameSpot for the latest.