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Video game makers' 'predatory behavior' in lawmaker's sights

Hawaiian representative likens Star Wars Battlefront II to an "online casino" for kids.

A Hawaiian lawmaker plans to take steps to combat the "predatory behavior" of video game publishers, with a particular focus on the so-called loot boxes initially included in Electronic Arts' Star Wars Battlefront II.

Democratic state Rep. Chris Lee specifically called out the highly anticipated first-person shooter game in a video released Tuesday, calling the EA title a "Star Wars-themed online casino, designed to lure kids into spending money." Of particular concern are the controversial loot boxes, which allow players to pay real money to buy in-game items to artificially advance their power levels.

"It's a trap," Lee said, invoking the famous line from the movie franchise. Lee said children are psychologically and emotionally unprepared to gamble, a situation Lee worries could lead to online gambling addiction.

"We're looking at legislation this coming year that could prohibit the sales of these games to folks who are underage in order to protect families as well as prohibiting different kinds of mechanisms in those games," Lee said, adding that his office has been talking with legislators in other states with similar concerns.

Lee's comments are the latest backlash to a game release already steeped in controversy. First players of the game, released earlier this month, discovered they could pay to unlock playable heroes like Luke Skywalker instead of earning game credits in a 40-hour grind fest. The option was seen by many as giving an unfair advantage to those willing to spend money as a substitute for putting in the work -- a big no-no in the gamer community.

In-game payments are not new and are often used as a way for players to gain new cosmetic elements such as character skins. But after a massive outcry from fans, EA announced it would turn off Battlefront's in-game purchases, also know as microtransactions, for the game's worldwide launch.

But while microtransactions are gone for the launch, they're not gone for good. EA said it will spend time "listening, adjusting, balancing and tuning" once the game is launched, but in-game payments will be back.

Representatives for EA didn't respond to a request for comment.

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