A senator wants to do away with 'loot box' in-app purchases
Atlanta CNN Business  — 

It’s become a widespread hack for a lot of games. If you get stuck on a certain level or run out of lives, there are bundles or upgrades you can pay for to help you get through it.

A new bill could do away with such in-app purchases.

Missouri Senator Josh Hawley announced plans to introduce legislation that would ban video games from offering microtransactions like “loot boxes,” or a random assortment of virtual rewards available to players for purchase.

The bill would also ban “pay-to-win” designs, which entice players to spend money either to surpass “artificial” levels of difficulty or to gain competitive advantages over other players.

“Social media and video games prey on user addiction, siphoning our kids’ attention from the real world and extracting profits from fostering compulsive habits,” Hawley said in a statement on his website. “No matter this business model’s advantages to the tech industry, one thing is clear: there is no excuse for exploiting children through such practices.”

The bill would apply to games targeted to those under 18 and games with wider audiences “whose developers knowingly allow minor players to engage in microtransactions.”

Hawley cited the game Candy Crush as a “notorious” example, saying it allows players to purchase a $149.99 bundle that includes in-game currency, boosters to reduce difficulty and 24 hours of unlimited lives.

CNN reached out to King, the publisher of Candy Crush, and its parent company Activision Blizzard but has not yet received a response.

Video game companies say features like loot boxes help them pay off the costs of developing a game and also make it possible for them to offer their games for free.

But opponents call the practices exploitative, saying they promote compulsive behaviors in children that are similar to gambling and that they foster addiction in users.

“When a game is designed for kids, game developers shouldn’t be allowed to monetize addiction,” Hawley said. “And when kids play games designed for adults, they should be walled off from compulsive microtransactions. Game developers who knowingly exploit children should face legal consequences.”

Under the bill, the distribution of such games would be considered an unfair trade practice under the Federal Trade Commission.

Common Sense Media, a nonprofit organization focused on helping families and educators navigate media and technology, commended the bill.

“Parents are frustrated by these practices and industry leaders should be supporting the creation of legislation and encouraging their colleagues to design products that actually benefit the well-being of kids and families,” James P. Steyer, the organization’s CEO and founder, said.

Steyer said he also encourages parents to set clear rules about what kids can and cannot spend money on and to set parental controls ensuring that kids can’t make purchases without their approval.