As expected, Republican Senator Josh Hawley from Missouri has introduced a bill that would ban the inclusion of “pay-to-win microtransactions and sales of loot boxes in minor-oriented games.” It would not affect cosmetic items and also has a long way to go before it could become law.
Hawley outlined the bill in an interview published earlier this week on Kotaku, telling our Jason Schreier that game publisher executives who promote lootboxes and pay-to-win microtransactions are “basically adding casinos to children’s games.”
The text of Hawley’s bill was released today. It defines a pay-to-win microtransaction as one that:
... with respect to an interactive digital entertainment product that, from the perspective of a reasonable user of the product, is a game offering a scoring system, a set of goals to achieve, a set of rewards, or a sense of interactive progression through the product’s content including but not limited to narrative progression—
(I) eases a user’s progression through content otherwise available within the game without the purchase of such transaction;
(II) assists a user in accomplishing an achievement within the game that can otherwise be accomplished without the purchase of such transaction;
(III) assists a user in receiving an award associated with the game that is otherwise available in association with the game without the purchase of such transaction; or
(IV) permits a user to continue to access content of the game that had previously been accessible to the user but has been made inaccessible after the expiration of a timer or a number of gameplay attempts; or
(ii) with respect to an interactive digital entertainment product that, from the perspective of a reasonable user of the product, is a game featuring competition with other users, provides a user with a competitive advantage with respect to the game’s competitive aspects over users who do not make such a transaction.
The prohibited microtransactions would not include higher difficulty modes, cosmetic items or add-on content.
The affected microtransactions, along with lootboxes, would be barred from “minor-oriented games.” Which games would those be? The bill does not refer to game ratings such as E or T and instead defines the targeted games as those “for which the target audience is individuals under the age of 18.” Games that are played by adults could be viewed as highly appealing to minors and could be impacted.
The bills co-sponsors include two Democrats, Ed Markey of Massachusetts and Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, the latter of whom in 2010 supported the California-led effort to ban the sale of violent video games to minors. That state law was ruled un-Constitutional by the Supreme Court for violating the artistic expressions protected by the freedom of speech.
Hawley’s bill will go to committee and will then involve a long process of hearings and multiple votes before it has a chance of becoming law.
You can read the full bill here.