Updated: A bill seeking to ban exploitative video game loot boxes and pay-to-win scenarios that target children is moving forward in the U.S. with bipartisan support.
Senator Josh Hawley (R-MO) formally filed his bill, called the Protecting Children From Abusive Games Act, on Thursday. If it passes, it will ban companies from publishing minor-oriented games that include pay-to-win microtransactions or loot boxes. It will also prevent publishers from digitally distributing games that aren’t specifically targeted at children if the publishers have “constructive knowledge” that their users are under the age of 18.
“Only the addiction economy could produce a business model that relies on placing a casino in the hands of every child in America with the goal of getting them desperately hooked,” said Sen. Hawley. “I’m proud to introduce this landmark, bipartisan legislation to end to these exploitative practices.”
Senators Ed Markey (D-MA) and Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) are co-sponsoring the bill. Sen. Markey previously worked with Sen. Hawley on changes to the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA). He believes today’s digital entertainment ecosystem is an “online gauntlet for children.”
“Inherently manipulative game features that take advantage of kids and turn play time into pay time should be out of bounds,” he said. “I’m proud to partner with Senator Hawley and Senator Blumenthal on this important legislation because corporate profits should never come before children’s well-being.”
Sen. Blumenthal, who once supported a proposed California law seeking to ban the sale of violent video games to minors, said, “I’m proud to sponsor this bipartisan legislation to protect kids from predatory gaming apps and hold bad actors accountable for their reprehensible practices. Congress must send a clear warning to app developers and tech companies: Children are not cash cows to exploit for profit.” That California law was later overturned by a federal district court judge.
One name not on the bill is Sen. Maggie Hassan (D-NH), who asked the Federal Trade Commission to investigate the practice of video game loot boxes last year. The FTC now plans to hold a workshop on the issue in August. Sen. Hassan told Variety earlier this month she’s encouraged to see bipartisan interest in loot boxes and the importance of protecting young gamers.
In a statement to Variety, Entertainment Software Association CEO Stanley Pierre-Louis called the legislation “flawed and riddled with inaccuracies.” “It does not reflect how video games work nor how our industry strives to deliver innovative and compelling entertainment experiences to our audiences,” he said. “The impact of this bill would be far-reaching and ultimately prove harmful to the player experience, not to mention the more than 220,000 Americans employed by the video game industry. We encourage the bill’s co-sponsors to work with us to raise awareness about the tools and information in place that keep the control of video game play and in-game spending in parents’ hands rather than in the government’s.”