Lawmaker Wants ESRB to Put Age-Restrictions on Games with Loot Boxes

In an interview with Rolling Stone, Hawaii State Representative Sean Quinlan advocated for self-regulation of loot boxes by the video game industry.

“The fear when you introduce government legislation into private enterprise is that we are going to overreach,” Quinlan said. “That is my fear. Ultimately, it’s best for the industry to self-police.” According to him, “the ideal solution would be for the game industry to stop having gambling or gambling-like mechanics in games that are marketed to kids.”

Quinlan — rightly, if the monetization schemes of several major publishers are any indicator — does not believe that developers and publishers will do that of their own volition. He does, however, believe they should be held accountable. “I know they have a fiduciary responsibility to shareholders, but I think they have a responsibility to customers too,” he said. But the ESRB would need to enforce higher-grade ratings and other labels to distinguish games that rely on predatory monetization. As an example, he said that “the ESRB could say that if a game has loot crates, it gets a 21-plus rating.”

Quinlan is equally uncertain that the State should step in directly through regulation if such a thing can be avoided. He “wouldn’t want it to be a federal law,” describing such a move as “a very slippery slope.” Nevertheless, it could be necessary if the industry proves unwilling to answer for itself.

But Quinlan did not come to these conclusions alone. He gives “full credit” to fellow legislator Chris Lee for contacting him to talk about potential solutions after both were separately impressed by the volume of consumer outcry on Reddit:

Reddit. It’s the front page of the Internet right? I was on Reddit one morning, and every single post on the front page was about Battlefront. I realized just how bad it has gotten. We’ve been on this path for 15 years with day-one DLC, subscription passes, pay-to-win.

We as consumers kept accepting that, kept buying those games. Now we’re at a place where we need to consider, do we need to legislate? Does the ESRB have to consider a new rating that could deal with gambling and addictive mechanics?

The Entertainment Software Association is proving resistant, however. Their response ran along the same lines as many publishers, asserting that loot boxes are “a voluntary feature” and that “the gamer makes the decision” in regards to their purchase — similarly addressing the technicality while missing the point of the issue.

Quinlan refuses to let them off the hook, however:

I think the mechanism is so close to gambling, when we talk about psychology and the way addiction and reward works, I think whether or not it means the strict definition of gambling, it’s close enough and the impact is close enough.

“For this particular game, I think EA is between a rock and a hard place, but we as consumers have a short memory,” Quinlan said, casting criticism toward the mammoth publisher: “As someone who has watched EA develop over the years and consume some of my favorite studios and destroy so many franchises, I don’t think this is going away.” That is why, in his words, he is “going to stick to this.”

Follow Nate Church @Get2Church on Twitter for the latest news in gaming and technology, and snarky opinions on both.


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