Senator Josh Hawley (R-MO) today announced a bill that would ban loot boxes and pay-to-win microtransactions in “games played by minors,” a broad label that the senator says will include both games designed for kids under 18 and games “whose developers knowingly allow minor players to engage in microtransactions.”
Hawley will introduce the bill, “The Protecting Children from Abusive Games Act,” to the U.S. Senate soon. In press materials announcing the bill, Hawley’s team brought up the Activision game Candy Crush as an egregious example of pay-to-win microtransactions thanks to its $150 “Luscious Bundle” that comes with a whole bunch of goodies. This bill will also likely apply to a host of online games that feature loot boxes and other ways in which players can spend money for real benefits.
“When a game is designed for kids, game developers shouldn’t be allowed to monetize addiction,” Hawley said in a press release. “And when kids play games designed for adults, they should be walled off from compulsive microtransactions. Game developers who knowingly exploit children should face legal consequences.”
I play a lot of Candy Crush, I know exactly what they are talking about. Recently there was a race to finish a certain amount of levels before others, I came in 3rd because I refuse to spend any money on boosts or bonuses. And what did I win for getting 3rd? The opportunity to buy
15 30 Gold Bars and get all sorts of bonuses for only $2.99, oh and while I am reading I can also buy the additional 30 gold bars that I have accumulated for only $3.99. It seems innocuous enough, it’s only $3 to $4, where is the harm. Now I am seeing little pop up notices when I start a new level,
Hey did you know that over 346,873 people used extra bonus moves to complete this level?
But it is not just Candy Crush, or any of the games with Loot Boxes, it is the entire culture of micro-transactions allowing you a little extra bonus. I have maintained for a long time that Blizzard selling gold in the Cash Shop is a bad idea. You are placing a means for people to pay cash to get something, be it a full clear of a Raid on Heroic, or Mythic+ runs, or even so they can buy Mounts and Pets. And the whole, “That’s why we have parental controls” is frankly a crock of Shite. Yes, everything can be done in the game without having to spend real money beyond your subscription fee. But Kids, and even adults can fall victim to predatory design. If you dangle a big enough carrot, people will want to have it. Blizzard is not stupid, they know exactly how to word the EULA, and ToS so that they are covered against any possible lawsuits. Just because you have really good lawyers writing your agreements does not make what you are doing right.
I mentioned on Twitter that even adults need protection from compulsive opportunities. We remember Hearthstone Beta, people that write for Blizzard Watch talking about the thousands of dollars spent on pack, for a beta. Sure they said the cards would be usable once the game went live, but what if they had pulled the plug? I recall from the days I was on Twitter how I would routinely see people asking for help financially because of unforeseen issues, loss of job, major car repairs, medical issues, and people would offer help to them. But then I also recall seeing many talking prior about all of the games they had purchased and how they did not know how they would have time to play them, or talking about the new $1,500 gaming laptop they bought, or all of the Hearthstone card packs and how they only got a few rares.
We all enjoy playing games, we enjoy working out challenges, and enjoy playing with others that share our passions. But the gaming industry has headed down a path of incentivizing spending a little extra to get ahead. Even if it is only to get the latest skins for appearance. We are all still the young kid trying to impress our friends so that we will be accepted into the group. And that major gaming companies are using that as a means to make more money just feels wrong to me. And don’t even throw that “They are a business, they operate to make money” argument at me. If they are hurting for money, then increase the monthly fee to $20.
I am sure some will have a different view than I do, and I accept that others may have a different opinion. But as someone that spent years and thousands of dollars on collectable card games, on miniature games where there was always one more better thing to have to get an edge, it is an addictive compulsion that has to stop at the source. You cannot wave your hand and say, “It’s up to the parents”.