ESRB ratings will include In-game Purchases

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).” 28378926_10156024855624000_2501363954117121357_n

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.

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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.”

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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?

Patent shows Activision uses Matchmaking to coerce players into Microtransaction

Recently, more and more games have begun adding microtransaction items in AAA games. Games such as MiddleEarth: Shadow of Mordor, Forza Motorsport 7, and Star Wars Battlefront 2 are recent video games that contain loot boxes. Most prizes within usually have cosmetic items that don’t influence the game but their multiplayer games such as Star Wars contain upgrades or improved Star Cards. The inclusion of loot boxes has angered many fans.

This month, Activision‘s patent passed for a system to coerce players into buying in-game items. The system would drive players into buying in-game items based on multiplayer. It would actively place expert or higher ranked players against a junior player.

It would also place players based on interest. “In a particular example, the junior player may wish to become an expert sniper in a game (e.g., as determined from the player profile),” according to the patent. A newer player may want to emulate their guns or gear which could lead to potential purchases.

The system also knew which items to promote based on players preferences. If you’ve already bought an item or weapon, the patent stated “if the player purchased a particular weapon, the microtransaction engine may match the player in a gameplay session in which the particular weapon is highly effective, giving the player an impression that the particular weapon was a good purchase. This may encourage the player to make future purchases to achieve similar gameplay results.”

Activision has stated this method is not in any current games and Bungie has confirmed the method is not in Destiny 2. It was an exploratory patent made in 2015 by the Research and Development team outside of their gaming division said Activision spokesperson to Glixel.

Opinion:

A lot of people are disgusted that Activision would actively create a match-making system that incentives in-game purchases rather than creating fair and balanced matches. Although Activision has stated they have not released this system on any current games, that may change towards the future. We want our games to be pure and be created purely for fun and entertainment but the gaming industry is still a business. Many online stores and sites already cater items, videos, and advertisements based on your searches, likes, or content you viewed. While I don’t have anything against promoting purchases based your interest, I am actively against basing the entire matchmaking system on it. While the system is based for first-person shooters, it can potentially be added into future Activision games. This further ruins their image to gamers.

Source:

Rolling Stones: Glixel