U.S. bill takes aim at money-making schemes in video games


A new bill dubbed “The Protecting Children from Abusive Games Act” has been introduced in the United States in the attempt to make it illegal for games played by children to utilize functions like loot boxes or pay-to-win microtransactions.

“A loot box is essentially a little randomized virtual object that someone might buy playing a game,” said Dmitri Williams, associate professor of communications at the University of Southern California on CTV News Channel. “So you spend a dollar, five dollars…and you get a box or a thing, and inside it might have something relatively not valuable or something potentially very valuable.”

“The randomness is sort of the psychology of what makes it exciting, but also is at issue here with the law.”

Williams used the example of ultra-popular game “Fortnite,” which has over 250 million registered users, to illustrate the appeal of the loot box, which may contain rare weapons or skins (costumes and designs the player’s character can wear) that are “desirable to the players.”

Fortnite, like many popular games, is free to play. Game companies make money through “microtransactions” during gameplay, such players buying a loot box or purchasing a 24 hour “unlimited lives” booster, allowing them continuous play time even after they fail a level.

Williams suspects that the major difficulty facing this bill is enforcement, especially in a free market environment like Canada and the United States.

Williams cites other countries with stricter political and social structures that have seen successful enactment of similar legislation, such as China.

“China is the largest video game market in the world, and they have, of course, much more institutional state control possibility there as opposed to the more free market things that we have in the West,” said Williams.

“They have simply said ‘you must do this’ and therefore all the systems comply. It would be tougher to pull off in the regulatory environment we have in the U.S. and Canada.”

Williams said the bill is “practically impossible” to enforce right now, but in the future, games might require users to log in using a “biometric scan or specific ID” to ensure rules are followed.



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