Legislators in Hawaii were among the first to express concern over the use of loot boxes in video games when Star Wars Battlefront II was in the news. This issue didn’t fade away, though. Lawmakers have introduced several bills designed to clamp down on the use of randomized loot crates in games, which are compared with gambling in the legislation.
Loot crates have been featured in games for years, but Electronic Arts’ particularly rapacious version in Star Wars Battlefront II kicked off a firestorm on the internet. As the release of Battlefront II approached, beta testers complained that too many items were locked up inside the random loot crates, and many of those items could change the gameplay. This left players with little choice but to drop cash in hopes of getting the items they needed. EA also stuck hero characters behind the loot crate paywall — the only alternative was to grind for up to 40 hours just to unlock a character.
EA eventually backed down, at least temporarily. Battlefront II no longer has loot crates, but EA says it’ll add the microtransactions again in the coming months. It might face opposition from lawmakers, though. Many are concerned that trading money for a chance of winning highly prized items in games is just a new form of gambling. If that’s the case, shouldn’t there be some regulation?
The legislation comes in the form of two separate bills, each with a version for the Hawaiian state senate and house. The first set of bills proposes limiting the sale of games with randomized loot crate mechanics to those 21 years of age or older. The second piece of legislation would require game developers to show the probability rates for item drops in their loot crates. Furthermore, these games would need to carry a warning label reading, “Warning: contains in-game purchases and gambling-like mechanisms which may be harmful or addictive.”
Loot crates are *great* for publishers, since they don’t promise any given reward. For players, not so much. Image by Ars Technica.
Democratic state representative Chris Lee is spearheading the legislation. He previously referred to Battlefront II as a “Star Wars-themed online casino.” He expresses concern that games have evolved to leverage psychological techniques to maximize profits, and he’s not alone. Lee says more than half of US states are considering legislation to regulate loot boxes in games.
The Entertainment Software Association is (unsurprisingly) opposed to the legislation in Hawaii. The ESA says the industry’s self-regulation is sufficient to protect gamers from predatory behavior in games. A lot of Star Wars fans would disagree.