Some of you may remember that the ESRB infamously said that video game loot boxes are no different to booster packs in collectible card games. They made that distinction to justify no labeling of loot boxes in games they rated. Now, the ESRB is apparently backpedaling slightly and allowing games to be classified for “in-game purchases.” If you’re reading that and wondering why such a vague label, you’re not alone.
ESRB president Patricia Vance clarified how the label applies to games in a statement: The labeling will “be applied to games with in-game offers to purchase digital goods or premiums with real world currency,” the ESRB said in a news release this morning, “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).”
Additionally, the ESRB has begun an awareness campaign meant to highlight the controls available to parents whose households have a video game console.
Of course, it “only” took an international effort by gamers that got legislators involved for the ESRB to act even to this degree. And personally, it feels way too vague and ineffectual for my liking. According to the ESRB, any form of in-game monetization could be potentially affected.
Virtually every so-called AAA video game, particularly on consoles, contains some form of in-game purchase, available from a menu choice within that game. Typically this is in the form of post-release premium downloadable content, which has been a part of games for nearly a decade.
“If it’s offered from within the game, yes,” Vance said, when asked if the ESRB’s in-game purchasing label covered all in-game transactions, as opposed to just the category of microtransactions that are typically more open-ended, such as virtual currencies and loot crates.
They do admit that this isn’t the final step, merely a first attempt at a solution. So it’s likely that their approach and classifications will develop more nuance over time. At least that’s my personal hope. i just hope we can avoid another outrageous controversy like the one caused by EA.
However, “this is just a first step,” Vance said. “We 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.”
The ESRB also cite a lack of evidence pointing to the damaging effects of loot boxes as being a concern. They claim loot boxes are always cosmetic, and optional, even though anyone who paid attention to the design decisions of games like Battlefront 2 and Shadow of War would say otherwise. Sounds like the ESRB is just looking for an excuse to make the minimum possible effort.
What do you folks think? Do these measures feel right to you?