State Legislators Weigh Law to Block Sale of 'Battlefront II' to Children

"This game is a Star Wars themed online casino designed to lure kids into spending money"

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State Legislators Weigh Law to Block Sale of 'Battlefront II' to Children

Two Hawaiian state representatives are looking into possible state legislation that would ban the sale of Electronic Arts' Star Wars Battlefront II to children, spurred by what the politicians describe as predatory practices and the dangers of encouraging children to gamble. The two lawmakers also said that other states are looking into the game as well.

"We are here today to ensure future protection to kids, youth and everyone when it comes to the spread of predatory practices in online ingredients and the significant financial consequences it can have on families and has been having on families of this nation," said Hawaiian state representative Chris Lee during a press conference. "This game is a Star Wars themed online casino designed to lure kids into spending money.

"It's a trap."

While Star Wars Battlefront II, which is sold as a full-priced retail game, was set to have a microtransaction system that asked players to invest extra time or money to unlock major playable heroes, that system was temporarily pulled by EA prior to the game's launch. It remains unclear what form those transactions will take when they return to the game.

The following day, the Entertainment Software Association told Glixel that loot boxes are not a form of gambling.

“Loot boxes are a voluntary feature in certain video games that provide players with another way to obtain virtual items that can be used to enhance their in-game experiences. They are not gambling. Depending on the game design, some loot boxes are earned and others can be purchased. In some games, they have elements that help a player progress through the video game. In others, they are optional features and are not required to progress or succeed in the game. In both cases, the gamer makes the decision."

During the press conference in Hawaii, Lee said that legislators need to make sure that children are protected from games that have what he calls gambling.

"We are looking at legislation this coming year which could prohibit the sale of these games to children who are under age as well as putting in different kinds of mechanisms in those games," Lee said. "We've been talking with several other states as well, legislators there who are looking at the same thing. This needs to be addressed before it becomes the new norm."

Internationally, the game has garnered enough negative attention to prompt Belgium’s gaming commission to investigate whether the game constitutes gambling.

While the issue of microtransactions and loot boxes seemed to have come to a head with the release of Star Wars Battlefront II, it's an ongoing issue that appears to be creeping into a wide variety of games. 

Earlier this year, Glixel discovered that Activision filed a patent for a system it could use to convince people in multiplayer games to purchase items for a game through microtransactions. Activision said at the time that the tech was not currently in any games. It did not address whether the system would be used in the future.

"This was an exploratory patent filed in 2015 by an R&D team working independently from our game studios," an Activision spokesperson told Glixel at the time. "It has not been implemented in-game."

EA, for its part, has mostly remained quiet on the topic since the announcement, though it did tell the Washington Post that it doesn't consider the microtransactions in Battlefront II gambling.

That doesn't seem to be the feeling in Hawaii where representative Sean Quinlan raised the specter of Joe Camel, a cartoon character once accused of being used to get children to smoke.

"We didn't allow Joe Camel to encourage our kids to smoke and we shouldn't allow Star Wars to encourage kids to gamble."

Glixel continues to reach out to Electronic Arts to see how it will decide to relaunch microtransactions and how that decision will impact current owners and the content they have access to. To date, EA has not replied to any requests for interview or comment from Glixel. Glixel also reached out to the two state representatives, the ESA and Disney for further comment.

Update: PC Gamer reports that Belgium's Gaming Commission has, after an investigation, determined that the loot boxes available for purchase in games like Overwatch and Star Wars Battlefront 2 are a form of gambling. It sounds like this could lead to a ban of some form of in-game purchases.

Update 2: The ESA sent the following comment to Glixel on the matter:

“Loot boxes are a voluntary feature in certain video games that provide players with another way to obtain virtual items that can be used to enhance their in-game experiences. They are not gambling. Depending on the game design, some loot boxes are earned and others can be purchased. In some games, they have elements that help a player progress through the video game. In others, they are optional features and are not required to progress or succeed in the game. In both cases, the gamer makes the decision."