New Bills Look To Regulate The Buying And Selling Of Games With Loot Boxes In Hawaii

But how will that change current ESRB ratings?

A loot box in 'Overwatch'

Four new bills recently introduces may change the way video games with loot box mechanics are bought and sold in Hawaii, the Hawaii Tribune Herald reports

The introductions of these bills come at a crucial time in the game industry. As loot boxes proliferate throughout most AAA games, many have started to push back, saying these games ship with forms of gambling targeted at children. The risks of doing so, some experts say, is still unknown. 

The first set of bills, House Bill 2727 and Senate Bill 3025, would require video game publishers to prominently label a game with loot boxes – similar to how the tobacco industry has to display the risks of smoking on cigarette packaging and advertising. According to the bill, a game's label will read: "Warning: contains in-game purchases and gambling-like mechanisms which may be harmful or addictive." Should the game be purchased online, the game's key art would need to also prominently display the same warning. 

Additionally, should the bill pass, publishers will be prohibited from updating a game post-release to feature loot box mechanics. 

The second set of bills, House Bill 2686 and Senate Bill 3024, go one step further, looking to prohibit the sales of games with loot boxes to anyone under the age of 21 – the current minimum age to gamble in the state. Should the bill pass, as detailed by the lawmakers: "It shall be unlawful for any retailer to sell to any person under twenty-one years of age a video game that contains a system of further purchasing:

"(1) A randomized reward or rewards; or

"(2) A virtual item which can be redeemed to directly or indirectly receive a randomized reward or rewards."

One of the unknown ramifications of the latter two bills is how they may change the way games are bought and sold. For the past 20 or so years, the Entertainment Software Ratings Board (ESRB) has a set list of ratings for games and who they can be sold to. These ratings range from "Everyone," which, as the name implies, can be bought and sold to any person of any age, and "Mature," which prohibits the buying and selling of a game to anyone under 17 years old without a legal guardian present. 

While the ESRB does have an "Adults Only" rating that prohibits the sales of a game to anyone under 18, the current gambling laws in Hawaii make it illegal for anyone under 21 to gamble. Should House Bill 2686 and Senate Bill 3024 be passed, it's unclear whether or not new ratings will need to be issued, or if the games will retain the same ratings, but won't be purchased by anyone in the appropriate age range as determined by the ESRB because of the laws. 

To make sense of the ways these laws may change the game industry, we've reached out to both the ESRB and Hawaii lawmakers. We'll update the story accordingly should we hear back.