After the controversy over Star Wars Battlefront 2 hit the industry, government officials have finally taken notice. Hawaii State Represetative, Chris Lee, has been spearheading a movement to protect young gamers from predatory gambling mechanics used in radomized rewards (AKA Loot Boxes). He’s uploaded several videos showing his attempts to educate his colleagues across the country about this new and growing problem. In one video, he showed that some representatives of other states not only had no idea about loot boxes, but didn’t even have a computer in their office. They had e-mails printed and brought to their office and would hand write replies for their secretaries to type for them. I know a lawyer who use to do this very thing.
After a lot of work, he has 4 bills to tackle the growing problem of Loot Boxes. First, House Bill 2686 and Senate Bill 3024 would prevent the sale of any game, with randomized rewards (loot boxes) that can be purchased with real money, to anyone under the age of 21. 21 being the age restriction in Hawaii for gambling. Next, we have House Bill 2727 and Senate Bill 3025. These two bills would require games to prominently label their games to contain randomized reward purchases as well as disclose the probability rates of items you can receive in each loot box.
Chris Lee’s primary concern at this time is to protect the children of Hawaii from the predatory nature of Loot Boxes. This comes after numerous people have come forward to show how they developed gambling addictions with loot boxes. One young man started at age 13 and is now a young adult who has attending rehab to kick his gambling addiction with loot boxes. Chris has reached out to other representatives and senators to get them to join his fight to get the gaming industry to self regulate, or regulate for them.
“I grew up playing games my whole life,” said state Rep. Chris Lee of Oahu, who spearheaded the bills. “I’ve watched firsthand the evolution of the industry from one that seeks to create new things to one that’s begun to exploit people, especially children, to maximize profit.”
Games like Overwatch have loot boxes that can be purchased, but also earned through gameplay. 40 minutes of gameplay could earn 1 loot box in overwatch, and it’s purely cosmetic. Star Wars Battlefront 2 had much of it’s progression system tied to loot boxes, requiring hours of gameplay to progress or simply fork out more money to progress. Gamers became outraged because it was basically a “Pay to Win” progression system.
“Whistleblowers have revealed that psychologists are employed to create these mechanisms,” Chris Lee stated.
They will try to find loopholes
China has passed laws in an attempt to protect consumers from predatory loot box practices. They pass one law that required developers to reveal the odds of receiving items in loot boxes. Blizzard’s Overwatch exploited a loophole to prevent themselves from having to reveal odds to their customers. They decided to sell a currency to buy loot boxes, which are then considered a “Gift.” Thus bypassing the rule as the loot boxes are technically not being purchased with real money. I hope that the bills from Hawaii prevent greedy publishers from exploiting a similar loophole. Keep in mind, Overwatch pulled in 4 Billion Dollars in 2017 with just in-game purchases (Loot Box purchases).
Government Regulation, good or bad?
Many people, especially those in the gaming industry, worry about government regulation the gaming industry. Those who cry out the most are usually, but not always, people who always complain about government regulating too much. So far, the proposed bills are reasonable and do help protect children and young adults under 21 from the gambling mechanics used in Loot Boxes. So far, it seems like the government is basically saying “Regulate yourselves responsibly, or we will regulate for you!” Like my mother when I was a child, telling me “Clean your room, or I’ll clean it for you…which means toys in the floor go into the trash.” This actually reminds me of the “Violent Video Games” issue that was a hot topic in the 1990s. Concerned parents went to their local State Representatives and Senators to push for violent video games to be banned from being sold to children or being banned outright. With the threat of government regulation, the gaming industry finally stepped up and formed the ESA as well as the ESRB Rating System to self regulate and protect young children from being able to buy games deemed too violent. With any luck, the industry will realize they got too greedy and decide to regulate themselves in a way that doesn’t prey upon their customers. Ether way, I’m tired of games being built around loot boxes instead of a great story with awesome gameplay.
Check out Chris Lee’s Youtube Channel, as well as this video of his that shows what you can do to get your state involved: