May 9, 2019 | 10:43
A US senator has announced a bill, 'The Protecting Children from Abusive Games Act', which if enacted into law would ban pay-to-win mechanisms and loot boxes from 'games played by minors.'
Microtransactions - game mechanics where selected content is locked away behind a series of purchases made using real-world money, in some games limited to cosmetic items only and in others allowing a well-heeled player to gain an unfair advantage over the brassic - are a divisive subject. Companies point to their success in boosting overall revenue and turning one-off game purchases into a recurring revenue stream which funds future development; their critics claim the games suffer for their inclusion owing to the incentive to push users towards spending cash rather than enjoying themselves. Still more divisive are 'loot boxes', purchasable with real-world money like any other microtransaction but offering only a chance to win a particular much-coveted item - which critics liken to gambling.
Senator Josh Hawley is, apparently, on the side of the critics, and has announced a plan to put a bill before the US Congress which would outlaw microtransactions and loot boxes in 'games played by minors' - which, given many parents' lax approach to age ratings, is pretty much most games.
'Social media and video games prey on user addiction, siphoning our kids' attention from the real world and extracting profits from fostering compulsive habits,' the Republican senator claims. 'No matter this business model's advantages to the tech industry, one thing is clear: There is no excuse for exploiting children through such practices. When a game is designed for kids, game developers shouldn't be allowed to monetise addiction. 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.'
Senator Hawley uses King's Candy Crush, owned by Activision Blizzard, as a key example of the issue: Designed to appeal to children, the game 'offers players additional lives on a set timer, allows players to purchase a $149.99 "Luscious Bundle" including 1,000 units of its "gold bar" in-game currency, a variety pack of temporary "boosters" to reduce game difficulty, and 24 hours of unlimited lives. The game touts this,' Senator Hawley continues, 'with a medal labelled "Best Value."'
The bill comes shortly after gaming site Polygon posted a piece claiming that children are being bullied over cosmetic microtransactions in games including Epic's Fortnite - with 'default,' referring to a character with no paid-for customisations, becoming a genericised insult.
Senator Hawley's bill has not yet been placed before Congress.
February 24 2020 | 12:00