Arguably the hottest debate in gaming this generation has been the implementation of loot boxes. More often than not, gamers release a collective groan at the mere mention of them. In fact, several games have had to remove them entirely in response to the player backlash. With this frustration in mind, the ESRB began labeling “In-Game Purchases” on their ratings for appropriate games back in 2018. The original warnings were loose at best. However, a new format will specifically call attention to games featuring loot boxes and randomized micro-transactions.
Second Time’s The Charm
The issue with the ESRB’s initial efforts was its lack of a concrete definition. The rating process was giving consumers a direct warning regarding in-game purchases, but its guidelines were sporadic. Originally, the labeling was broad enough to cover games that utilized randomize loot crates and microtransactions. But, the likes of downloadable content, season passes, and subscription services were also under the label’s umbrella. While this sounds fine, there was no designation in place to accurately identify which in-game purchases were available. The resulting notifications weren’t nearly as informative as they needed to be, and were hardly helpful.
Regarding DLC and season passes, it’s important to note that consumers are fully informed of what these packages provide, and their content is guaranteed. Loot boxes, on the other hand, are total mysteries. The consumer has no idea what their money will net them, and in some cases, can result in a pay-to-win culture.
A New ESRB Rating To The Rescue
Uncertainty surrounding these in-game purchases has been criticized for its resemblance to gambling. Given that they function in a similar fashion to slot machines and roulette wheels, it isn’t difficult to see why. This system is especially harmful to parents who’s children play the games. We’ve all read, or experienced first-hand, stories where a kid spends an absurd amount of their parent’s money without the parent’s consent or knowledge. Labeling these specific games ahead of time will limit the risk for non-gaming parents, as well as, leave their wallets at ease.
Financial risk aside, systems like these that yield wildly different results from one player to another often give rise to questions regarding a game’s fairness and equity. Additionally, those against such practices have gone as far as to question the practices of publishers themselves (cough… Shadow Of War… cough). Apart from protecting the finances of buyers, the ESRB’s new standard will also protect those who wish to avoid micro-transactions entirely.
Is It Worth All The Fuss?
At the end of the day, loot boxes and microtransactions aren’t going anywhere. It’s a system that guarantees the gaming industry millions annually and does provide intrigue for tons of players. That’s all well-to-do, but the uncertainty surrounding the system needs to be cleaned up, and the ESRB is taking this to heart.
The ESRB’s adjusted label will now ensure that consumers know exactly what they are buying. Parents will be aware of potential micro-transactions targeted at their children and will be able to make informed purchases. More experienced players will have pre-existing knowledge of the culture they are buying into before they even reach checkout. It is a small change, but it’s a worthwhile one. Again, this new rating system won’t revolutionize the gaming industry, but it will provide a much-needed step in the right direction.