Soon, you might be able to start smoking in parts of the USA sooner than you’ll be allowed to buy a game like Madden, FIFA, Battlefront II, Middle Earth: Shadow of War, and many, many others. After much social media outrage regarding Loot Boxes in interactive entertainment – particularly in EA’s aforementioned Battlefront II, The United States Government took notice, with Hawaii leading the charge.
Now in a some-would-say-uncharacteristic and admirable display of follow-through, Hawaii has introduced bills that seek to regulate and possibly out-right ban the sale of games featuring loot boxes to minors. Hawaii House Bill 2686 and Hawaii House Bill 3024 run an average of 750 words, but their impact on the gaming landscape could effect millions of gamers – in theory at least.
Citing The World Health Organization’s controversial recognition of ‘gaming disorder’ as a real ailment, the bills ultimately seek to make it: unlawful for any retailer to sell to any person under twenty-one years of age a video game that contains a system of further purchasing: (1) A randomized reward or rewards; or (2) A virtual item which can be redeemed to directly or indirectly receive a randomized reward or rewards.
The bill makes no mention of an exception for free-to-play games on PC, Consoles, or Mobile – in fact making only the *sale* of games with loot boxes illegal, *not* making it illegal for minors to access them once they have the game; meaning kids who still need their mom to purchase a game like Shadow of War, can still hop in and purchase loot boxes once they own it; and game developers can sell them, because the bill also makes no mention of age-restrictive tools. Additionally the definition of retailer in the bill does not expressly mention digital downloads from consoles; and if they too, are considered retailers. However re-salers are mentioned- so selling your copy of Madden to your little brother could get you in trouble.
Additionally, the bill mentions the notion that game companies can add ‘predatory’ content to games via updates and content patches – which is how Ultimate team Debuted FYI – but makes no attempt to make that illegal, either: there is currently no disclosure required at time of purchase that video games contain predatory loot boxes and gambling-like mechanisms which may pose a harmful risk for some people, particularly youth and young adults. Further, game publishers can insert gambling-like mechanisms into games at any time with game updates without prior player or parental knowledge.
Thus, the ‘punishment’ – which is currently nebulous – would actually fall on retailers and clerks, not game developers, or those exploiting the ‘predatory’ practices. When similar legislation was introduced regarding violent games in the wake of the ‘Hot Coffee’ scandal, then-Senator Hillary Clinton suggested the punishment for clerks and retailers caught selling the games would be a fine and mandatory community service.
Thus, the most drastic bills introduced by the government of Hawaii, alas, lack teeth. As the bill points out, Madden football and FIFA could ship with no Ultimate Team, and release them instead as Day-1 downloadable updates, circumventing the law entirely. Shadow of War could roll out a Loot Box Bizarre months after launch, and the proposed laws would do nothing to stop it. It’s also worth noting claw machine and various gambling-styled arcade machines are completely legal.
The other introduced laws would advocate for a warning label on the games stating Loot Boxes are in the game; which is equal parts sensible and fair. Inform consumers, don’t limit their choices – they’re crafty find and exploit loop holes (see also, The Drug War).
As to whether these bills are passed, heavily modified, or ignored in favor of whatever the next big Internet controversy is, the story is absolutely worth keeping a close eye on – as is whatever developers like EA, Blizzard, and *any* mobile developer who make their salt on Loot Boxes, have to say. The law is designed to prevent loot boxes from finding their ways into the hands of minors when they purchase it. If they change it so minors *can’t* play games with loot boxes, and that all players need to verify their age as being over 21 (the smoking age in Hawaii), expect to hear quite a lot from your favorite – and least favorite, developers.