Banning loot boxes is a good move


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.

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”.


5 thoughts on “Banning loot boxes is a good move

  1. > But Kids, and even adults can fall victim to predatory design. If you dangle a big enough carrot, people will want to have it.

    I used to be a little closer to the “parental controls” side of the debate because ultimately I do control the funds and ability to buy things, but as you have effectively pointed out, that doesn’t stop my children from wanting to buy these things. It really just makes me look like a dick for being unwilling to do so.

    My perspective is very heavily based on Roblox, which my oldest two play on regularly. It is a weekly occurrence for one of them to ask me to buy them some Robux, a cash currency, so they can buy this thing that they NEED. It’s typically your standard cash shop item like a boost of some kind or cosmetics. These games are specifically set up so that they see the cool flashy thing, and they want it, but it’s cash shop only. Sometimes to the point of being required in order to “finish” a given game. It’s hard to see it as anything but predatory.

    I think it’s a great move. Not sure how far it will get, but I like it.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. As I mentioned, I’ve played Candy Crush for a long time. Since Activision bought King games the level of advertising and incentives to purchase additional items has increased dramatically. Sure it was always there in the background, but there has been a noticeable change. I have found too that if I get stuck, refuse to buy boosters of extra moves, and walk away for a few days miraculously I will breeze right through and go on a win streak. Totally not a Pavlovian design.


  2. Mrs Bhagpuss has played Candy Crush for years now. Twice she’s lost all progress for various computer reasons and had to start from scratch again. She plays most days now she’s not playing much GW2. She has never spent a single penny on Candy Crush or shown the slightest interest in doing so. On the other hand, in GW2, she spends quite a lot on Gems, probably a bit more than a regular subscription would cost.

    The difference, I think, is that in GW2 she’s buying looks whereas in Candy Crush she would be buying progress”. Generally I’m just too flat-out miserly to buy either.

    I don’t think it’s anything like as simple as “good design/bad design” or “predatory practices”. One person’s favorite thing is another’s most hated nuisance so things one player would pay $10 to play another player would pay $10 to skip. I would buy an “auto-complete Living World chapter” option in GW2 in a heartbeat, if the price was right, for example, wheras other people pay to add the option to play the stupid things to their account. On the other hand, I like the default harvesting method, which is free, and hate al of the flashy, noisy purchased “upgrades”, whereas most people seem to think it’s worth paying through the nose just to make a lot of noise when they mine a rock.

    Commercially, though, I think we are long past the time when there’s any meaningful alternative to in-game purchases. It’s not a choice between higher subscriptions and microtransactions; it’s a choice between paying a lot of money to play games or not having games to play. We won’t be going back to how things were twenty years ago, whatever legislation does (or most likely doesn’t) get passed. If the current means of increasing income streams are blocked they’ll either be replaced by new ones or the nature and type of the games will change to become profitable. Either way, making more and more money will be the goal and players will be where that money has to come from.

    (As usual with any blog that uses Askimet, this is my second attempt to post).

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Sadly, games with real $$ micro transactions are far too lucrative to be effectively regulated. Why else would Activision Blizzard take on so much debt to buy out King? So, while I applaud the proposed legislation, the real question becomes “What will be the manner of noncompliance?” Still, just because you can’t do EVERYTHING does not mean you should not do SOMETHING.

    For myself, I loathe any game with what I feel are intrusive micro transactions, and that includes MMOs. It is the main reason I am not big on ESO — I find the loot crates and other constant “You have a gift!” notices distracting, confusing, and annoying. I do not like any game that forces your attention — for whatever reason — outside of the basic fantasy world. One of the (lately) few things I continue to admire about Blizzard is that they have for the most part held the line on this for WoW. Whether they will be able to resist corporate’s stated intention to increase every Activision Blizzard IP’s participation in this particular monetization technique is anyone’s guess. I agree with you about the WoW token being a generally bad move, but at least for me it is not yet intrusive. (And one could argue that its introduction did in fact raise the cost of a monthly subscription to $20!)

    Thoughtful post!

    Liked by 1 person

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