Senator Maggie Hassan (D-NH) tells Glixel that she will continue to closely monitor the use of loot boxes in video games and that she hopes the ESRB will take sufficient action to address consumers' concerns. If they don't, she added, the Federal Trade Commission should get involved.
Senator Hassan sent a letter to the president of the Entertainment Software Ratings Board on Wednesday (which you can read here), calling the group to review the ratings process as it relates to loot boxes, examine the marketing of loot boxes to children and develop best practices for developers around the toxic form of microtransactions. The Senator also asked the board to conduct a study that further delves into the reach and impact of loot boxes in games.
The letter was sent the same day Senator Hassan asked four FTC nominees if they believe “that children being addicted to gaming - and activities like loot boxes that might make them more susceptible to addiction - is a problem that merits attention?” and if the FTC would be willing to look at loot boxes as an issue independently, depending on the ESRB's response to the senator. All four said they would.
In an email interview with Glixel Thursday, Senator Hassan reiterated her concerns about the use of microtransactions in games that sell randomized items.
"I began looking into loot boxes and the harmful impact they could have on young gamers after a concerned Granite Stater contacted my office to share their concerns," she says. “I sent a letter to the Entertainment Software Ratings Board about a number of issues related to loot boxes, and I hope that they will take action to better prevent youth from being targeted. If the response from the ESRB is inadequate, I believe that the Federal Trade Commission has a responsibility to look into this issue.”
She added that she believes the ESRB and ESA ratings process is robust.
"I think they are making a concerted effort to self-police, however, it is time for them to take a serious look into the harmful impact loot boxes can have and to collect more data on how minors use them," she says. "As the industry shifts and as new technologies are introduced, it is important that they improve upon their rating model to put the interests of minors and consumers first.”
Thursday evening, the ESRB told Glixel, that it will continue to make enhancements to ensure parents continue to be well-informed as the industry evolves. The group did not directly address what it might do in terms of loot boxes, microtransactions and ratings.
Senator Hassan says that it is "critical that we protect players - particularly children - from being taken advantage of by loot boxes in video games.
"I will continue to closely monitor this issue and I hope that the ESRB will take sufficient action to address consumers’ concerns.”
Reached for comment Thursday, the ESA referred questions to the ESRB. The senator's office says it has not yet heard back from the ESRB.
The issue of loot boxes in video games continues to pick up steam as officials in several states continue to look into the practice represents a form of gambling. Hawaii earlier this week introduced four bills seeking to limit the sale of games with the practice built into them. Apple last year changed its rules around apps requiring developers disclose the odds of winning specific loot boxes.
Analysis group Superdata estimates that the transactions tied to free-to-play PC games accounted for $19 billion dollars of the industry's revenue in 2016, while traditional PC and console game sales only accounted for $8 billion.
Electronic Arts found itself at the heart of the controversy earlier last year when it released a beta for Star Wars Battlefront II that contained what players believed was an overly aggressive use of microtransactions.
While the game sells as a full-priced retail title, it was originally set to have a microtransaction system that asked players to invest extra time or money to unlock major playable heroes. The outcry, which resulted in the most downvoted comment (by EA) in the history of Reddit, led the company to temporarily pull the microtransaction system on the eve of the game's launch. It also led to comments from both LucasFilm and Disney, seemingly condemning EA’s approach to microtransactions in the game.
At the time, EA said that microtransactions would "become available at a later date, only after we've made changes to the game."
Also last year, Activision drew some heat after it came to light that it had investigated systems to help empower microtransaction purchases through matchmaking.