Washington State Senator Introduces Bill for Loot Box Regulation

As the debate surrounding loot boxes as a form of gambling continues, a new bill looks to force the game industry to regulate

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As the debate surrounding loot boxes and microtransactions as a form of gambling targeted at children continues, a new bill proposed in Washington is looking to force the game industry to regulate these mechanics, The News Tribune reports

Washington State Senator Kevin Ranker introduced a bill this month asking state officials, as well as game developers, to determine once and for all if loot boxes and similar mechanics are specifically designed to prey on children. 

“What the bill says is, ‘Industry, state: sit down to figure out the best way to regulate this,’” Ranker told the outlet. “It is unacceptable to be targeting our children with predatory gambling masked in a game with dancing bunnies or something.”

The issue, though, is complicated. If it were determined as a form of gambling, it could stand to reason the Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB) will have to change its entire rating system to accommodate. As of right now, the ESRB's highest rating allowed for sale in stores is Mature, which prohibits children under 17 from purchasing a game without an adult present. United States gambling laws, however, make it illegal for children under 18 or 21, depending on state, to engage in any gambling. If it were determined loot boxes are gambling, it'd be illegal for a child to purchase a game, even if they are 17. 

The ESRB does have an Adult's Only rating, prohibiting a game from being purchased by anyone under 18, but these game's aren't available in brick and mortar stores. But even then, depending on the state, a game with loot boxes won't be available to people under the age of 21. Any laws passed could change the way video games are rated.

It wouldn't be the first time the ESRB's added a new rating, though. In 2005, the Board added Everyone 10+ rating to cover games with mild language or cartoon violence. It's the only new rating added to the ESRB since its foundation in 1994. 

Despite the controversies, the game industry seems to be fully-committed to loot boxes and microtransactions. In a recent industry survey, the Game Developer's Conference found one in 10 developers plan to implement the mechanics in their next game.