EA’s Star Wars Battlefront II will go down in video game history as the final straw that led to one Asian American politician taking a stand against microtransactions and loot boxes, the type of in-game monetization typically found in free-to-play mobile gaming but now applied even on some AAA paid titles.
Despite being full-priced, the game, developed by DICE and published by Electronic Arts, adopted a microtransaction system that asked players to invest extra time or money to unlock major playable heroes.
Criticised as being predatory when implemented in full-priced games, such system is regulated under gambling law in China, Japan, Australia, and the Isle of Man and now is being investigated by the gambling regulators of several more countries. In the United States, however, the practice has been overlooked outside the gaming industry and has become a trend in games published in recent years.
Hawaii state representative Chris Lee, a gamer himself, has condemned the use of loot boxes in a video titled “Highlights of the EA predatory behavior announcement”, Gamespot reports. He further announced that he was taking action in order to “ensure future protections for kids, youth, and everyone [else].”
“This game is a Star Wars-themed online casino designed to lure kids into spending money. It’s a trap,” he was quoted as saying. “This is something we need to address to ensure that particularly kids who are underage, who are not psychologically and emotionally mature enough to gamble–which is why gambling is prohibited under [the age of] 21–are protected from being trapped into these cycles which have compelled many folks to spend thousands of dollars in gaming fees online.”
Lee said that legislation that could change the way games with loot boxes are sold is being looked at in Hawaii and other U.S. states.
“We’re looking at legislation this coming year which could prohibit the sale of these games to folks who are underage in order to protect these families, as well as prohibiting different kinds of mechanisms in those games. We’ve been talking with several other states as well [and] legislators there are looking at the same thing. I think this is an appropriate time to make sure these issues are addressed before this becomes the norm for every new game.”
When Lee’s press conference was shared on Reddit, the politician later responded to users’ comments and encouraged the netizens to support the effort by “calling and emailing your own state legislators and asking them to act.”
He further noted that: “These kinds of loot boxes and microtransactions are explicitly designed to prey upon and exploit human psychology in the same way casino games are so designed. This is especially true for young adults who child psychologists and other experts explain are particularly vulnerable. These exploitive mechanisms and the deceptive marketing promoting them have no place in games being marketed to minors, and perhaps no place in games at all.”
The widespread backlash Battlefront II received from gamers resulted in the temporary removal of its microtransaction system prior to its release on major gaming platforms on November 17. Developers, however, have indicated that it is coming back at a later date.
Disney, which owns the Star Wars franchise, was reportedly irked with the backlash the game received, especially since the release of “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” is just around the corner.