Members of the Hawaiian State Legislature are continuing a crusade against video game loot boxes, with two bills introduced in the State House and Senate. With the bills targeting video games with randomized awards, specifically Star Wars Battlefront II, this is only the next chapter in a long saga over the loot box controversy.
Battlefront II has been the prime example of a video game accused of predatory behavior with an alleged "pay-to-win" model squeezed into the game prior to launch, with players being encouraged to buy loot crates for the chance of winning items and weapons that give them the edge in battle. After several complaints - and a call from Disney bosses unhappy with the negative buzz around the Star Wars license that publisher EA was creating - EA and developer DICE introduced several last minute changes to the game's progression system before launch, and made the bombshell announcement hours before the game's release that in-game purchases would (temporarily) be turned off.
But the systemic problem still remains, according to several players. Hawaii State Representative Chris Lee (D) took charge of this initiative in November 2017, calling Star Wars Battlefront II a “Star Wars-themed online casino, designed to lure kids into spending money. It’s a trap.” And it's not the only triple-A game with this problem in 2017, the others being Destiny 2, Call of Duty: WWII, and still, Overwatch.
The Hawaii Tribune-Herald reports on two pairs of bills that address the issue head-on. House Bill 2686 and Senate Bill 3024 "would prohibit the sale of any game featuring a system wherein players can purchase a randomized reward using real money to anyone younger than 21 years old." Basically, loot boxes would be regulated the same way as alcohol. And House Bill 2727 and Senate Bill 3025 would "require video game publishers to prominently label games containing such randomized purchase systems, as well as disclose the probability rates of receiving each loot box reward." Think of it like a Surgeon General's warning on a pack of cigarettes.
Speaking to the Herald, Representative Lee says on the issue:
“I grew up playing games my whole life. I’ve watched firsthand the evolution of the industry from one that seeks to create new things to one that’s begun to exploit people, especially children, to maximize profit.”
This apparently isn't purely a mass panic from old, out-of-touch politicians, but possibly just a gamer in a position of power who is concerned about the mental health effects of systems such as loot boxes. With the costs of game development steadily increasing, publishers are looking for other ways to make a profit from their products without having to raise the standard $60 USD cost. But with loot box systems having a same effect on the human brain as gambling, many are concerned, so much to the point where state governments are finding the need to intervene.
Whatever the result, this is sure to be a transformative moment for the video game industry.