Senator Josh Hawley (R-MO) announced plans today to introduce a bill to the U.S. senate that would regulate or outright ban loot boxes in games that are sold to minors. The junior Senator from Missouri has even given this proposed legislation a name, the Protecting Children from Abusive Games Act, or PCAGA.
PCAGA has not been formally introduced on the senate floor yet, but Hawley stated in his intentions today that he is looking to protect children from what he calls predatory practices in video games through, by his description, “manipulative” online game features. This includes not only things like random loot boxes, but also “pay-to-win” purchasable items that help a player advance a game.
The text of the bill is not officially out, so it is difficult to say exactly what is being defined here as pay-to-win or as loot boxes, but Hawley did make a point to emphasize that this would be a ban enforced by the Federal Trade Commission. There’s a number of thorny problems with that, but without having the actual bill out, which is intended to be released in the next few days, it is hard to directly counter it. At the moment, there is no direct government regulation or categorization of what video games are sold to minors; the ESRB rating is industry self-policing, which means the definition of what can be sold to minors is currently only determined by internal consensus.
To put it a different way, it is not at all clear what Hawley means by “banning loot boxes in games for children.” Would this mean something like Overwatch, which is rated Teen by the ESRB? Do games with Mature ratings get exemptions from this?
Hawley himself has made a career aiming at tech companies for legislation. In March of this year, Hawley took aim at Facebook when making the argument for an antitrust case by pointing to what he calls bias in social media against conservatives. There has been no clear indication before today’s announcement that the Senator was interested in legislation of video games.
The Entertainment Software Association, a lobbyist group made up of various companies within the video game industry, put out a statement in response to Hawley’s intended legislation.
“Numerous countries, including Ireland, Germany, Sweden, Denmark, Australia, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom, determined that loot boxes do not constitute gambling,” the ESA wrote. “We look forward to sharing with the senator the tools and information the industry already provides that keeps the control of in-game spending in parents’ hands. Parents already have the ability to limit or prohibit in-game purchases with easy to use parental controls.”
The bill should be formally introduced this week.