As you may know, loot boxes have become an incredibly controversial issue in the world of video games over the past year, becoming an especially pressing problem after the release of games like Star Wars: Battlefront II (dubbed a “Star Wars-themed casino). Some states, such as Belgium, declared loot boxes a form of gambling and subsequently banned games featuring the controversial in-game option. But the USA, complying with the decision of the Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB), is unlikely to ban loot boxes.
Many people were shocked at ESRB’s view on the matter which subsequently led to their introducing a labeling policy – games which allow players to purchase additional in-game content will have a specific label.
What is the ESRB, why does it consider loot boxes safe and is their labeling policy likely to work – the answers to these questions are explained in the following lines.
What is the ESRB?
The Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB) is a self-regulatory organization based in America. ESRB’s whose job is to assign age and content ratings to video games.
Essentially, ESRB rates games based on their content via a six age-based level system – this is intended to help consumers figure out a game’s suitability and content. Essentially, the ESRB has to prevent children from accessing games featuring adult content such as violence, gambling motives, drinking, etc.
And, as mentioned above, the ESRB has decided that loot boxes are not a form of gambling – a decision opposing popular opinion.
Why the ESRB declares loot boxes safe?
First of all, for those who do not know, loot boxes are virtual items, which contain anything from character’s additional lines, through new skins, to unique weapons and armor. Loot boxes are purchased with real money and players can not choose the content of the loot box they purchase. This means that whereas one player may spend over $100 for items they already have, another can purchase just one loot box and get the most valuable in-game item. Sounds pretty much like gambling are saying from casinoguardian.co.uk, does it not? Well, there is one thing that makes loot boxes different from gambling—at least in the eyes of the ESRB—there are no “empty” loot boxes, i.e., players always get something for their money, it is only the value of in-game objects that vary.
Loot boxes became a pressing issue after the release of Star Wars: Battlefront II, whose loot boxes contained much more than additional in-game items – they contained important parts of the gameplay, essentially forcing players to spend money on loot boxes if they want to get a fulfilling gaming experience. Moreover, there have been numerous cases of children spending thousands of their parents’ money on loot boxes, without the children even realizing that they spend real money.
And yet, despite all the issues surrounding loot boxes, the ESRB does not consider loot boxes a form of gambling. According to the Board, players do not lose anything by purchasing loot boxes as they always receive some in-game content (even if it is not what they actually wanted). In fact, according to an ESRB representative, loot boxes are not much different than collectible card games, in which collectors do not always get the cards they want when they purchase a new pack of cards.
Some say that if loot boxes had a different policy, the ESRB would have banned them. For example, if loot boxes offered a 50 percent chance to win in-game content and a 50 percent chance to win nothing, the ESRB would have had an entirely different opinion.
Are labels going to solve the problem?
In a statement made in the dusk of February this year, the ESRB said they have decided to utilize a labeling system by which they will inform parents and users whether a given game features in-game purchases. Nevertheless, these labels will not differentiate between different types of in-game purchases, i.e., they will not inform consumers whether a game has loot boxes or not.
While it may seem that this new labeling technique aims to inform parents and consumers about the content of the games they purchase, but the case is not exactly such. After all, the ESRB labels will not reveal specific details of the type of purchases available in a game. On top of all, these labels will not impact the rating of a given game, too. Essentially, children may be given access to the controversial loot boxes, without even knowing it.
The ESRB has not only declared that loot boxes are not gambling, but they have also defended the controversial in-game feature in a letter sent to a senator questioning the practices of loot boxes, too. In the letter, Patricia Vance—the president of ESRB—has compared loot boxes to baseball cards, “where consumers always get something and there is an element of surprise as well”.