After much pressure, the ESRB will add labels along with their video game ratings regarding in-game purchases. ESRB stated in a news release this morning that the labeling will “be applied to games with in-game offers to purchase digital goods or premiums with real world currency, including but not limited to bonus levels, skins, surprise items (such as item packs, loot boxes, mystery awards), music, virtual coins and other forms of in-game currency, subscriptions, season passes and upgrades (e.g., to disable ads).”
To clarify, this will be separate from the game’s original ESRB age rating. The ESRB is also starting a campaign to educate parents on video game control for children. The president of the ESRB, Patricia Vance, said “If you care about parents, if you care about their concerns, this is an effective response.” Vance stated this is a first step and “are going to continue to look at this issue and determine if there are additional measures or guidelines to put in place. This obviously an issue of concern to the gamer community.” To educate others, they created a separate webpage: parentaltools.org.
These changes all started due to Electronic Art’s Star Wars Battlefront 2 controversy regarding loot boxes. For a major franchise, EA locked most of the game content through a loot box system which incentives people to buy them with real currency. The state of Hawaii and the United States government pressured the gaming industry, specifically the ESRB, to have greater regulation on games which in-game purchases.
Vance has stated the label will come for all games transactions “If it’s offered from within the game.” They have also received no opposition from publishers…yet. Despite Hawaii representative, Chris Lee, referring the loot box system as gambling, Vance and the ESRB disagree.
“We tried to find research on that,” Vance said, “but we were unable to find any evidence that children were specifically impacted by loot boxes, or that they were leading them toward some tendency to gambling. We truly don’t know of any evidence supporting those claims. We continue to believe loot boxes are a fun way to acquire virtual items; most of them are cosmetic. But they’re always earned and they’re always optional.”
Vance has noticed that most parents don’t know what a loot box is or how the system even works. Because of that, the ESRB has not created a label for loot box but rather in-game purchases. What most parents are concerned about is their child spending money. Vance has stated “We don’t believe it does [fit the definition of gambling]…you always get something, there’s no way to cash out, and you can complete a game without buying a loot box.” Some publishers have begun to show the drop-rate for certain items for transparency but the ESRB is not enforcing it. Hawaii legislation wants all loot box systems to contain the option similar to gambling. “I think it is important to clarify that these purchases are always optional, are often awarded at no cost to the player, can be acquired using virtual currency that can be earned through gameplay and/or purchased, and are never required to complete the game,” Vance said, drawing the boundaries publishers see between loot boxes and gambling.
The ESRB and Vance are reinforcing their opinion that the ratings are for parents to judge video game purchases and recommend setting up a sub-account for their children’s main game account. Their big focus on Parentaltools.org is to educate parents on in-game purchases.
What do you think of ESRB’s handling of in-game purchases?