Video game labels in the United States will now warn consumers when a product includes the option to buy loot boxes. The Entertainment Software Rating Board, which has overseen gaming content since the 1990s, revealed the new descriptor in a blog post today. Now, games with loot boxes will have this label: “In-Game Purchases (includes Random Items).”
This is part of the ESRB’s effort to provide both information to consumers and legal cover for publishers. The organization calls these extra labels “Interactive Element” warnings. Other Interactive Elements include a notice that “Users Interact.”
“This new [Interactive Element] will be assigned to any game that contains in-game offers to purchase digital goods or premiums with real world currency for which the player doesn’t know prior to purchase the specific digital goods or premiums they will be receiving,” reads the ESRB blog. “[We will still assign] the original In-Game Purchases notice to games that offer any other type of purchase, including additional levels, cosmetic items, DLC, expansions, etc.”
This labeling comes as part of the industry’s response to concerns regarding loot boxes. The ESRB has always positioned itself as a resource for parents. And it claims its research says that most parents don’t care about randomized items. They just want to know if a game has any microtransactions at all.
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Many gaming fans do not like this business model, and some compare it to casino-style gambling. In its blog, the ESRB insinuated that it was adding this new warning to placate those people.
“Since adding the In-Game Purchases notice to ratings assigned to physical games, many game consumers and enthusiasts — not necessarily parents — have reached out to us asking the ESRB to include additional information to identify games that include randomized purchases,” reads the blog. “[This] was developed in response to those requests.”
And gaming fans have made it clear that they hate loot boxes. The backlash reached its zenith in fall 2017 when Electronic Arts launched Star Wars: Battlefront II. That online multiplayer shooter was going to include purchasable loot boxes that improved your character’s abilities. Fans raged against that choice calling it “pay to win.” And just before Battlefront II’s release, EA pulled the option to buy digital items in the game.
Now, the industry is largely moving beyond randomized purchases. Most developers are embracing alternative business models like the premium progression pass. These are a kind of Skinner box that players pay to participate in to get more rewards from a game.