3 min read

Congress turns its eye toward loot box regulation in letter to developers

Several Congresspersons led by Senator Ed Markey (D-MA) are urging large game companies to adopt improved standards for loot box design.

A group of United States Congresspersons have sent a letter to several large video game companies including Activision, Take-Two, Nintendo, Riot Games, Epic Games, and beyond, pressing them to adopt stricter standards for in-game microtransactions, particularly loot boxes.

The letter, signed by Senator Ed Markey (D-MA), and House Representatives Lori Trahan (D-MA), and Kathy Castor (D-MA), asks if the companies in question are intending to modify their games to comply with the United Kingdom’s Age Appropriate Design Code (AADC), and if they will ensure games released in the United States will match those standards.

As Kotaku points out though, the U.K’s AADC standards that are about to kick in don’t contain standards for loot box design. The regulation is largely centered around online privacy for children, and protecting them from data gathering.

Nevertheless, Markey and his colleagues appear to be coming for game developers with some fairly strong language. “While online gaming can benefit children, risks range from the collection and monetization of children’s data, exposure to violent content, online predators, and manipulative design,” they write.

Loot boxes get called out as an alleged method for exploiting children, as the Congresspersons argue that “children are uniquely vulnerable to manipulation and peer pressure associated with in-game purchases and loot boxes.”

And while game companies might be able to dodge immediate action on loot boxes by promising to adopt the AADC standards in the United States, this won’t be the last time they hear from U.S Lawmakers. The letter ends by stating that “it is imperative that Congress acts with urgency to enact a strong privacy law for children and teens in the 21st century.

“As we work towards that goal, we urge you to extend to American children and teens any privacy enhancements that you implement to comply with the AADC.”

The letter closes with a request that the notified companies inform Congress of their intent to adopt the AADC’s standards by August 26, 2021.

It’s strange to see loot boxes and other microtransactions bundled in under data collection and the threat of online predators, but Congress has often wrangled public attention on issues by focusing on the broad harms to children.

This strategy can produce useful legislation like the 2013 Child Online Privacy Protection Act, which many game developers are already familiar with adhering to. It can also lead to sensational events like the Parents Music Resource Center Senate hearings, where lawmakers grilled Rock musicians like Frank Zappa, Dee Snider, and John Denver about the lyrics of Rock Music.  

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