It seems that the outrage over Star Wars: Battlefront 2‘s overreaching loot box system may have caused us to hit a tipping point with microtransactions in games. In the span of just a few hours, government officials in Belgium and the US have spoken out against those loot boxes, condemning them as being predatory. This could turn out to be more than just words, too, as those officials have indicated that they’ll pursue legislation to ban the sale of games with loot boxes to minors.
Belgium’s decision is actually about a week in the making. Last week, the Belgium Gaming Commission launched an investigation into the nature of these loot boxes (an investigation that wasn’t just limited to Battlefront 2, keep in mind), and this week, it seems to have determined that loot boxes are indeed a form of gambling. When you have a game like Battlefront 2, which is heavily marketed toward children – as all Star Wars things are – we cross a line that’s troubling to both the Commission and Belgium’s Minister of Justice, Koen Geens.
READ MORE: Loot box controversy hits EA where it hurts“Mixing gambling and gaming, especially at a young age, is dangerous for the mental health of the child,” Geens is quoted as saying by VTM News. Geens takes issues with in-game purchases where the player doesn’t know exactly what they’re getting, making loot boxes a prime target. He’d like to see those types of purchases banned outright, and he doesn’t want to see it end with Belgium; he’s planning to take this crusade to the whole of Europe.
Over here in the US, we see a similar initiative cropping up in Hawaii. State Representative Chris Lee has uploaded a video to YouTube in which he and fellow State Representative Sean Quinlan speak out against randomized loot boxes in games marketed toward children. Lee and Quinlan use much of the same language as Geens and the Belgium Gaming Commission, referring to loot boxes as a form of gambling. “This game is a Star Wars-themed online casino designed to lure kids into spending money,” Lee says in the video. “It’s a trap.”
Essentially, Lee and Quinlan want to ban the sale of video games with these predatory microtransactions to children. That would effectively be a death sentence to any games that carry them, because then ratings board like the ESRB would probably move to give those games more restrictive ratings.
If that ban went into effect and the ESRB responded in kind, that could potentially mean Adults Only ratings for games that incorporate random loot boxes. That, in turn, means drastically lower sales because many retailers won’t carry AO games to begin with. Publishers already go out of their way to avoid AO ratings on their games, so the threat of such a ban could inspire quick change when it comes to loot boxes in triple-A games.
Lee expands on his plans in a post to Reddit. While he and Quinlan are State Representatives and therefore don’t have a direct effect on federal laws like members of the US House and Senate would, he thinks that states can influence change at the federal level. He says that the two of them have been in contact with other representatives in “a number of states” who would like to take similar measures.
This is important because, as Lee points out, you don’t necessarily need to enact laws at a federal level to see change. If even a handful of states join Hawaii in its push to ban the sale of these games to kids, that could be enough to pressure publishers into dropping loot boxes entirely. That’s the belief, anyway, though it isn’t hard to imagine many gamers adopting an “I’ll believe it when I see” mentality given the quickly-growing popularity of microtransactions among big publishers.
Regardless, it’s nice to see the people who can actually bring about change talking about these issues. This will certainly be something to watch as we move into the future, and as we wait to see how EA changes Battlefront 2‘s progression models to be more consumer-friendly. In the meantime, head down to the comments section and tell us what you think: Should the government step in to stop the sale of these games to children, or should we figure out another way to combat microtransactions?