Josh Hawley Introduces Loot Box Ban to US Congress

Josh Hawley Loot Box Ban

Josh Hawley compares the microtransactions on mobile games to video game loot boxes.

U.S. Rep. Josh Hawley (R-Missouri) introduced a bill to the US House of Representatives which would ban loot boxes in all video games, because he sees them as a form of gambling. Loot boxes are the randomized rewards and upgrades found in video games, which can be earned through play or bought as in-game purchases.

Because loot boxes or booster packs combine real money purchases with random rewards, many people see them as gambling. Since many video game players who buy loot boxes are underage, those same people see loot boxes as illegal gambling.

While many make moral arguments against paid video game rewards, Rep. Josh Hawley sees loot boxes as a legal issue. Microtransactions in mobile games remain just as controversial.

In fact, Android mobile apps on Google Play and iPhone apps on the App Store long had in-app purchases, but the concept now influences more video game publishers. For Josh Hawley, that is a big part of the problem.

Candy Crush Saga: An Example

The congressman said, “When a game is designed for kids, game developers shouldn’t be allowed to monetize addiction. And when kids play games designed for adults, they should be walled off from compulsive microtransactions.”

To underscore his point, Rep. Hawley cited the mobile game “Candy Crush Saga“. While Candy Crush is free-to-play, it has in-app purchases. These microtransactions allow people to buy in-game items to speed up play, enhance their chances, or add more excitement to the game. In the case of Candy Crush Saga, in-app purchases range from $0.99 to $149.99.

In the opinion of Josh Hawley, underage children should not have access to $150 purchases through a gaming app. Hawley believes gaming apps feed into the same compulsive behavior that gambling does, enticing people with immediate gratification. In the case of Candy Crush, the game treats an underage gamer the same as an adult Candy Crush fan.

Pointing to the pay-to-win rules, Hawley cited, “The addictive properties of pay-to-win with the compulsive behavior inherent in other forms of gambling.”

Such microtransactions are common among top mobile gaming apps, but Hawley thinks they should be illegal. A game with candy as its theme, in the congressman’s mind, should not allow children to run up a debt based on their addiction to in-app purchases.

Entertainment Software Association on Loot Boxes

The Entertainment Software Association (ESA) doesn’t see it the same way. The ESA pointed to several countries that ruled loot boxes are not gambling — the United Kingdom, Ireland, France, Australia, and New Zealand — to counter the arguments made by Josh Hawley.

Stanley Pierre-Louis, president of the software association, said he wished to consult with Rep. Hawley. Pierre-Louis said, “We look forward to sharing with the senator the tools and information the industry already provides that keeps the control of in-game spending in parents’ hands.”

“Parents already have the ability to limit or prohibit in-game purchases with easy to use parental controls.”

Countries That Banned Loot Boxes

Though the ESA can point to a number of western nations that ruled loot boxes aren’t gambling, a full consensus doesn’t exist. Last year, Belgium’s gaming regulator ruled that loot boxes are gambling. No paid loot boxes are allowed in Belgian gaming.

The same goes for Holland, which passed a similar law. The State of Washington in the United States also is considering a loot box ban, while a Hawaii state representative supported such a bill in 2017 (though it failed to make progress in the state legislature). Several Asian countries, such as China, banned loot boxes.

Whether the United States bans loot boxes and mobile game microtransactions is another matter. The bill appears to have little support at the moment beyond Hawley’s endorsement. Such bills have been attached to bigger, more popular legislation in the past. The partisan nature of the US Congress and the split nature of leadership in the House and Senate makes it harder for any bill to be passed.

Whatever the case, loot boxes continue to be controversial. That won’t change anytime soon.