Hawaii State Representative Chris Lee made waves a few weeks ago when he announced plans to investigate lootboxes in video games as possible gambling. Now, he has released a video explaining what exactly he plans to do.
The main thing Lee wants is to enact legislation that bans the sale of games containing what he calls “gambling mechanics” to minors. In other words, games like Battlefront II would be legally barred from being sold to people under the age of 18, a prohibition that does not even extend to Mature-rated games.
Lee clarifies that this would need to apply to both physical and digital products, which is key as the self-regulatory ESRB currently does not exercise mandatory control over digital storefronts.
The representative from Hawaii also expressed concern with timing design of lootboxes and drops, suggesting that they are designed to take advantage of people by psychologically manipulating drops. While Lee acknowledges this information isn’t confirmed and is mostly based on conjecture, it is worth noting that publisher Activision has patented a method of matchmaking that encourages microtransactions.
“Once the algorithm identifies a player who’s likely to keep spending money to buy that one ‘unicorn thing’ that they’re after… then they lower the odds and then you keep spending more,” Lee says. “It’s absolutely unethical and unfair.”
Lee wants accountability legislation to prevent game publishers from taking advantage of people using behind-the-scenes lootbox drop rate numbers. He does not explain how in the video, but presumably wants to enact something similar to China’s model of presenting lootbox content rates before players can buy them.
You can watch the video below, but the full description includes a link to a template letter for people to send to elected officials. The letter speaks to a level of urgency and danger that seem rather extreme and seems to eschew self-regulation in favor of legislation, which seems at odds with what fellow state representative Sean Quinlan has stated.
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I am a little less confident in Lee’s motivations after reading his template letter, though maybe it is a little more alarmist for hopes to meet in the middle. That said, legislation like this taking off could potentially hurt publishers who intend to use microtransactions in their games and would force a massive change in the industry.