Lawmaker Working to Ban Sale of Games With ‘Lootboxes’ to Minors

Chris Lee, a member of Hawaii’s state House of Representatives, is drafting legislation that would prohibit the sale of games with randomized in-app purchases, known as “lootboxes,” to gamers under 21 years old. Lootbox systems have been increasingly compared to gambling, as well as drawing the ire of gamers themselves, who derisively refer to the mechanic as “pay to win.”

Lee describes lootboxes as “predatory,” and their randomized nature seems to be built around the same reward structures that make gambling addictive. Lee’s push was highlighted today by Kotaku, and Lee told the gaming outlet that since announcing his proposal, he’s heard stories of children spending thousands of dollars on gaming microtransactions. In one case relayed to Lee, a child reportedly stole a parents’ credit card to pay for game purchases.

Lee’s initative could pave the way to national legislation, and is being documented in videos posted online by his office.

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In taped discussions with aides, Lee has made clear he has no desire to prohibit or restrict in-game purchases as such, as long as rewards are not random.

The marketplace seems to be making some headway in fighting back against lootboxes. Player disgust with the systems reached a fever pitch surrounding Electronic Arts’ Star Wars Battlefront II, leading the publisher to remove lootbox elements from the game at launch. The controversy nonetheless seems to have badly tarnished the game, which as of this week has fallen dramatically short of sales projections. Lee — himself an avowed gamer — has previously referred to Battlefront II as a “Star Wars-themed online casino.”

Lootbox sales still drive big revenue for publishers including EA. Lee, a Democrat, told Kotaku that he’s seen interest in and support for his and similar legislation across party lines, but warns that game industry lobbying groups are gearing up to defend the practice.

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Joan Guzman