It looks like the concerns raised by last year's video game loot box controversies are still prevalent in the minds of politicians over in the US. This week, Hawaii's representative outlined four bill proposals that would age-gate games considered to contain a ‘gambling element'. In addition, a US senator sent a letter to the head of the ESRB ratings board, stating that the agency needs to do more to curb the loot box trend by re-evaluating the game rating process.
US Senator, Maggie Hassan, sent a letter over to Patricia Vance, the president of the ESRB, the US ratings board for video games. In this letter, the senator notes that there is still “robust debate” over whether loot boxes should be considered gambling. However, even if loot boxes aren't ruled as a gambling mechanic, the fact that they are “both expensive habits and use similar psychological principles” means that loot boxes should “be treated with extra scrutiny”.
The letter urges the ESRB to “review the completeness of the board's ratings process and policies” in relation to loot boxes. In all, the senator wants the board to “keep pace with new gaming trends, including in-game micro-transactions and predatory gaming tactics”, particularly as they are deployed on minors.
In a request that may be outside of the ESRB's wheelhouse, the letter also requests that the board develops “best practices for developers”, including “ethical design” as well as “tools for parents to disable these mechanisms, or making them less essential to core gameplay”.
If the ESRB does not end up being able to reduce the level of concern surrounding loot boxes, then the FTC may end up getting directly involved.
KitGuru Says: I don't necessarily think that government oversight in video games is the best road to go down. However, it is clear that publishers need to pump the breaks on microtransactions. The fact that publishers like Activision are patenting ways to psychologically sway players towards microtransactions is proof of that.