Some forms of entertainment, most of us agree, should be reserved for adults. Gambling is high on the list of pleasures we don’t believe are appropriate for minors, and that’s why the leading online casinos all practise age verification. Only consenting adults get to play the casino games available at All Slots Casino, and that’s the way it should be at all reputable gambling and betting sites online.
With that in mind, the two bills recently introduced by the Hawaiian legislature to restrict sales of video games containing loot box features makes sense. Loot boxes are packages of enhancements that players can buy with real-life money in online multimedia role-playing games, and they’re an easily monetised feature that earn lots of revenue for publishers and developers.
However, the rewards you get in a loot box, whether it’s extra powers, better weaponry or other in-game advantages, are randomised. You’re always buying a pig in a poke, in other words – shelling out cash with no guarantee of a decent reward, relying on your luck.
It’s possible to buy several loot boxes in a row and end up with lots of loot that you don’t need, but never getting that one special advantage you’re hoping for.
And that, folks, is gambling – and we don’t let kids do it.
Hawaii Not the First
Hawaiian legislators have introduced two bills into both the House and the Senate, one of which restricts the sale of games containing loot box features to over-21s, and the other requiring publishers to include proper labelling on packaging regarding any loot box content in a game, along with accurate probability rates of securing the rewards available.
If the bills pass into law, state representative Chris Lee, who introduced and is rallying support for them, believes that they will reduce the exploitation of video game players, especially children, for financial gain. They will no doubt save a few mums and dads from nasty surprises on their credit cards, too.
Hawaii isn’t the first jurisdiction to act on the perceived threat of loot boxes. Back in May 2012, Japan’s Consumer Affairs Agency placed restrictions on the “gacha” model – the forerunner to loot boxes – in the game Puzzles and Dragons. China clamped down on loot boxes in 2016.
Singapore passed a ban on remote gambling, that appeared to banned loot boxes, in October 2014 – although an outcry from game manufacturers then saw the state exclude games “with no monetary gain” and which allowed players to “redeem other entertainment products” with virtual currencies earned in-game. The authoritarian city-state makes titles walk a fine line between “gaming” and “gambling”.
Several More Regions Examining Concerns
Authorities in the Isle of Man, the UK, Australia, New Zealand, South Korea, Germany, France, Belgium, the Netherlands and Sweden are also concerned about loot boxes, and whether they can be classed as gambling and thus need to be kept out of the hands of children.
The Isle of Man has declared flat-out that they are, and placed them under the same gambling regulations as casino games and online sports betting. In most of the rest, the jury is still out, as it is under federal law in the US.
Hawaii is the first US state to propose a law classifying loot boxes as gambling and barring minors from playing them, but whether any other states follow suit may depend on the fate of Hawaii’s two bills.
No doubt the same commercial forces that turned “Star Wars” from an epic, genre-changing film into a franchise of sci-fi-themed adverts for ever-more extensive merchandising will want to continue the tie-in between blockbuster films, monetisable games, and the spendthrift instincts of young people.
Public Action Gets Results
After all, it was “Star Wars Battlefront 2” that was so loaded with loot box purchase options when it was released in November last year that first triggered the alarm over minors gambling in New Zealand, Belgium, the UK, Hawaii and Washington state.
The outcry caused Electronic Arts to pull an in-game currency, bought with real money and used to buy loot boxes, from “Battlefront 2” before its public launch. The developer said it plans to return in-game purchases to the title in the future, but has not named a date.
If laws are enacted to force developers and publishers to choose between exploitative monetisation, and the ability to sell their games to the vital teen demographic, we could see some interesting changes.