Lawmakers start to push back against predatory monetization practices in games

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Posted November 22nd, 2017 at 8:15 am

The consumer backlash surrounding the implementation of loot boxes, card packs, digital currencies, and other aggressive monetization strategies has been the big story of the gaming industry for the past two months. With billions of dollars involved and mainstream news being made it was only a matter of time until the government would take notice and examine the practices and consider regulation. It appears that time is now. 

State representative Chris Lee of Hawaii announced that legislation to prohibit the sale of games that feature mechanisms such as loot boxes to children is being considered. Star Wars: Battlefront II was singled out as being an “online casino specifically designed to lure kids into spending money.” EA has since removed the ability to spend money on loot boxes due to the organized efforts of consumers, though they have stated that will be returning in the future.

These kinds of lootboxes and microtransactions are explicitly designed to prey upon and exploit human psychology in the same way casino games are so designed. This is especially true for young adults who child psychologists and other experts explain are particularly vulnerable. These exploitive mechanisms and the deceptive marketing promoting them have no place in games being marketed to minors, and perhaps no place in games at all.

From NBA 2K18 to Forza 7, Need for Speed Payback, Middle-earth: Shadow of War and the one which seems to ultimately have tipped the scales, Star Wars: Battlefront II, consumers have made their voices heard while reviewers are also now recognizing the harmful effects on the design of the games. Lower review scores than would have been anticipated have resulted but it’ll take a much longer time to gauge whether the brands have suffered long-term harm or if they’ll emerge relatively unscathed once changes are made for future releases.

The days may now be numbered for Ultimate Team as we know it and anything to do with “chance” utilizing hidden odds involving real dollars in these products. The argument over whether loot boxes/card packs are gambling will continue (and of course it’s gambling) but the key thing to watch out for is the emphasis being put on “children.” There is no way a league like the NFL or NBA will allow the product that represents them to be sold as something deemed unsuitable for kids, the same as Disney would react swiftly to having their Star Wars IP associated with underage gambling.

The meteoric rise and practically overnight crash of Daily Fantasy Sports may end up being comparable to what video game publishers are facing. Both had a period of operating with impunity. Typically when an action is taken like this by Hawaii those in position to do the same in other states follow. It’s very much just the start of things to come. Other countries are in the discussion as well, with Belgium the first to determine that loot boxes are a form of gambling – and the possibility of that leading to games that use them being banned.

In the end microtransactions almost certainly won’t disappear completely, but changes to the structure of modes and the way they operate could very well be dramatic if publishers are forced to comply with any new laws that target the tactics in question.

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  • MoneyMayweather

    Thank you finally!

    I never once liked MUT or any other mode where you have to spend money and it’s sad that only young children would fall for something like this.

    maybe these companies will actually start to work on the game play to sell games instead of exploiting children like this.

    It’s pretty sad that a six gen Madden game is more fun than Madden 18.

    EA needs get their head out and start making the game fun again and less sterile

    even 2k’s NBA 2k has started to feel stale the game play of NBA 2k feels less fun than previous generations and I believe companies have stopped to innovated on their game play to spend time on modes to prey on children.

    I don’t believe any adult would spend money on these mods it’s a huge waste of time since MUT teams don’t carry over. so what’s the point?

  • Keith.

    As I said in the other thread, bye-bye Ultimate Team undoubtedly will mean bye-bye to EA’s exclusive licenses, since there’s no way they can continue to pay for exclusive licenses based on game sales alone.

    Hopefully, the end is finally in sight for our 13-year long national nightmare. And even sweeter that EA has brought it on themselves.

    • Just a guy

      Then we can say “bye-bye” to physical card collecting as well. If this new bill somehow passes (it won’t, FYI, not with Republicans running the government) then they’ll have to include baseball cards as a form of gambling as well as it’s essentially identical to loot boxes.

      This could have ramifications that reach farther than we can imagine and it won’t impact just video games.

      • Physical cards have actual value, they can be sold. Odds are also provided.

        It’s likely that at the very least, video game publishers will have to make public the odds for loot boxes/packs.

      • Keith.

        Ordinarily I would agree, but don’t discount the impact that action from State or foreign legislators could have in this scenario. It wouldn’t necessarily take action from the feds to disrupt the entire model.

        • This is true, because if enough states take action (blue states most likely such as Hawaii, California, Washington, New York) it may not be necessary on a federal level for the industry or its publishers to recognize they need to make big changes. It happened very much that way with DFS also.

          • Keith.

            Or Europe, where it all began with FIFA UT. If the laws/regs are written broad enough to catch FUT, it’ll all come crumbling down for EA since you can’t replace $800M annually or whatever it is overnight, or over 2-3 years for most companies, for that matter.

    • MoneyMayweather

      I want 2k to make every sport game imaginable.

    • Hoops

      And that means more competition and more good options for every gamer.

  • EA died for this. Its a shame Bioware and Dice are stuck under their thumb.

  • Just a guy

    Nothing will come of this as long as this country has a Republican ran government. There is no chance they push through a bill that potentially takes money away from big corporations.

  • Jeremy Mixell

    if you take the time to earn coins by winning games, you can just buy
    the packs with the coins. you don’t have to buy anything, you are just
    limited to certain packs. if you want the other ones you have to buy
    them. By the way in the US you have to be 18 to get a credit card. So if
    “children” are buying these items, they are using someone elses credit
    cards. On PS4 you have to have a playstation plus membership to play
    online. You use a credit card to buy the membership. The only way that
    “children” can legally do any of this is to use playstation store gift
    cards. If this is gambling than what are add-ons considered? What if
    you buy an addon and you decide that you don’t like it? Is that
    gambling? If you buy a game based on great online reviews and then it
    sucks, is that gambling? While we are at it, just ban minors from buying
    anything. You are not being forced into microtransactions. You are
    given the option to choose. If you don’t want it, don’t buy it. And to all you trolls, I don’t work for any gaming company, retail company, or gaming publisher. I’m just a 35 year old gamer that has been happily gaming since 1986.

  • Jeremy Mixell

    if you take the time to earn coins by winning games, you can just buy
    the packs with the coins. you don’t have to buy anything, you are just
    limited to certain packs. if you want the other ones you have to buy
    them. By the way in the US you have to be 18 to get a credit card. So if
    “children” are buying these items, they are using someone elses credit
    cards. On PS4 you have to have a playstation plus membership to play
    online. You use a credit card to buy the membership. The only way that
    “children” can legally do any of this is to use playstation store gift
    cards. If this is gambling than what are add-ons considered? What if
    you buy an addon and you decide that you don’t like it? Is that
    gambling? If you buy a game based on great online reviews and then it
    sucks, is that gambling? While we are at it, just ban minors from buying
    anything. You are not being forced into microtransactions. You are
    given the option to choose. If you don’t want it, don’t buy it.

  • 21bird

    EA is the worst …100.00 a bundle twice a week with no guarantees and the game being throttled at their choosing I.e. (patch)

  • Hoops

    What these companies are doing today is fooling everybody into spending money to have real fun with a game that should be fun out of the box.
    I have always disliked such policies and have never ever spent a single dolar in on line gaming.
    But there are many who can’t put up with so much pressure and are always willing to throw some more dolars on a game.
    That for me is predatory and should be prohibited as soon as possible.

  • connor

    Lawmakers start to push back against predatory monetization practices in games and plan to implement predatory monetization practices for the internet. If you think the microtransactions in games are BS (which they are), imagine the whole internet like an EA or 2K game. I know it’s off-topic but please call your congressmen to tell them the importance of net neutrality.

  • ClubSteve

    it’s about time!!!! the greed is out of control for games that do this…..even to the point where i lose any interest in playing any modes that use this practice. i had to advise my 10 year old son to do the same. as a parent, it’s sad when you have to remove your payment method from the online account just to prevent paying for this foolishness.

  • WilsonRamos

    They are preying on a small number of cash cows with mental illness that can’t control their spending . I barely play online anyway so this doesn’t bother me

  • Kid Fleetfoot

    Re Madden 18 or any sports game, I do not play online. I do not even know what MUT is. I have no desire to spend VC on things I see at least so far.
    I would however spend money for a specific player legend if the player’s name was spoken by the announcer. (As if I can have fun creating players such as Paul Bunyan for Vikings.) I would also spend money for stadiums/courts or the ability to create my own whether professional looking or sandlot. I’m thinking NCAA 14 a little here as to stadium.
    I doubt I’d spend as much as game company would like however.
    For online play to buy a player the player would have to be not modifiable as to abilities. For stadiums, who cares.
    I am a freak for players names being spoken. NO NUMBERS like NBA 2K18.
    What’s interesting in the article the way I understand it is that States could make their own laws/regulations. Whether that would pass a Supreme Court test, who knows?

  • WilsonRamos

    Noticed call of duty ww2 quietly put in the option to buy these the other day