ESRB, the Entertainment Software Ratings Board, is making the distinction between in-game purchases and randomized ones likes loot boxes in its ratings moving forward.
This comes about two years after the board started adding a warning to its ratings when games had microtransactions, with a blog post from the company stating there would now be separate content warnings for general in-game purchases and ones that are randomized, enticing people to pay repeated amounts for the chance of unlocking certain rewards.
To explain the difference, a standard in-game purchase would be something like Persona 5 Royal, which has several DLC packs for costumes, new Personas to collect, and even additional boss fights. But these aren’t randomized, so when you make the purchase you know exactly what you’re getting and you’re set. But something like Overwatch, which has content you can randomly unlock like skins, poses, and emotes, allows players to speed up the unlocking process by buying loot boxes with real money, rather than earning them each time you move up a level. The contents of the loot boxes are random, however, so people are inclined to spend more real-world cash on them trying to get the items they want. It’s basically gambling.
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This is probably a solid call for ESRB, as parents certainly don’t want their kids spending more money trying to unlock certain content when there’s no simple one-and-done way to do that. But reading ESRB’s statement, it seems this was less of a concern from parents than it was general players. Under a section of the blog post with the header “Why Now,” the ESRB says that parents are more generally concerned about in-game transactions as a rule than they are about loot boxes specifically, but consumers in general wanted the distinction, presumably to know whether or not they wanted to buy the game and deal with its economy at all.
“According to research, parents are far more concerned about their child’s ability to spend real money in games than the fact that those in-game purchases may be randomized,” the company said in its statement. “This data helped to inform the introduction of the In-Game Purchases Interactive Element. That being said, since adding the In-Game Purchases notice to ratings assigned to physical games many game consumers and enthusiasts (not necessarily parents) have reached out to us asking the ESRB to include additional information to identify games that include randomized purchases.”
Since the dawn of the digital era of video games there have been scorching takes and heated debates about microtransaction economies in video games, with Loot Boxes being a particularly hot button issue as people equated it to gambling, especially in arguments that these types of transactions shouldn’t be available in games marketed to children, as gambling is illegal for minors in all 50 states. But given that ESRB made the designation for randomized transactions based on fan requests, it makes it sound like this particular issue is more rooted in microtransaction resentment than anything else, but I suppose it can still do the job of keeping kids away from these kinds of things while also not having been specifically for them.