Hawaiian state bill would ban sale of loot box-enabled games to minors

Video game loot boxes — randomized item backs often obtainable through real cash or “premium currency” — soared in popularity in 2017, with everything from Star Wars Battlefront II to Forza Motorsport 7 using some version of the concept. It’s incredibly easy to purchase loot boxes on gaming consoles, but if a new bill out of Hawaii is passed, minors in our 50th state won’t be able to buy games that include them.

Senate Bill 3025, which has an identical companion bill in the Hawaiian house of representatives, comes a few months after state congressman Chris Lee openly condemned loot boxes in video games, calling the system Electronic Arts previously used in Star Wars Battlefront II a “Star Wars-themed online casino designed to lure kids into an addictive cycle of gambling money for a chance to win game upgrades.”

Should the bill pass, videos games “that contain a system of further purchasing a randomized reward or virtual idem that can be redeemed to directly or indirectly receive a randomized reward” — loot boxes — could not legally be sold to anyone under 21. This system doesn’t prohibit the sale of games that contain traditional microtransactions, however.

“Unlike at casinos, there is rarely disclosure of the odds of winning items of value in loot boxes or in-game gambling-like mechanics,” the bill said. “There are no gaming commissions to ensure players are being treated fairly and not exploited by gambling-like mechanics which do not pay out as advertised.”

A second set of bills in both the Hawaiian House and Senate applies to consumers regardless of age. They would require video game publishers to “prominently” disclose the probability rates of winning randomized items. The Entertainment Software Rating Board, which gives video games an age rating such as “Everyone,” “Teen,” and “Mature,” based on their content, doesn’t currently view the system as gambling. It’s a self-regulatory board established by the Entertainment Software Association, which has every major publisher among its members — it would be against the group’s interests to classify the systems as gambling, as it would hurt the individual publishers’ bottom lines.

Time will tell if similar bills are necessary elsewhere in the United States and around the world. Following disappointing financial results for Star Wars Battlefront II, Electronic Arts CFO Blake Jorgensen blamed the game’s performance on controversy surround its loot box system.