ESRB introduces new rating to inform customers when games include randomised loot boxes

The Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB) has unveiled a new rating designed to inform players when games include randomised items its in-game purchases.

“This new Interactive Element, In-Game Purchases (Includes Random Items), will be assigned to any game that contains in-game offers to purchase digital goods or premiums with real-world currency (or with virtual coins or other forms of in-game currency that can be purchased with real-world currency) for which the player doesn’t know prior to purchase the specific digital goods or premiums they will be receiving (e.g., loot boxes, item packs, mystery awards),” the ESRB said in a detailed blog post.

The new rating will be applied to games that include “loot boxes, gacha games, item or card packs, prize wheels, treasure chests, and more”, whilst the “original In-Game Purchases notice will still be assigned to games that offer any other type of purchase, including additional levels, cosmetic items, DLC, expansions, etc”, but not games that only offer randomised loot boxes. 

“According to research, parents are far more concerned about their child’s ability to spend real money in games than the fact that those in-game purchases may be randomised,” the ESRB said. “This data helped to inform the introduction of the In-Game Purchases Interactive Element. That being said, 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 randomised purchases. 

“The In-Game Purchases (Includes Random Items) Interactive Element was developed in response to those requests. By including more specificity about the randomised nature of the in-game purchases, consumers can make more informed decisions when purchasing or downloading a game, instead of finding out after the fact.”

The head of NHS England’s mental health services recently slammed the games industry for “setting kids up for addiction by teaching them to gamble”. In a statement issued by NHS England, NHS mental health director Claire Murdoch called for a crackdown on gambling-like mechanics in games, including clearer indications of the odds of obtaining items and a ban on loot boxes in games children play.

While loot crates and microtransactions have been an industry staple for a number of years now, the loot mechanics in games like Star Wars Battlefront 2 and Overwatch drew the attention of gambling regulators elsewhere. Many countries like Belgium and the Netherlands have taken action in relation to gambling laws, and the United States Federal Trade Commission also investigated how loot boxes impact children.

In the UK, an investigation by the UK parliament’s Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) Committee – in which EA’s vice president of legal and government affairs Kerry Hopkins infamously reframed the term “loot boxes” as “surprise mechanics” – and children’s commissioner have each slammed the industry for a “lack of honesty and transparency”.

Further to a vote in May 2019, the 194 members of the World Health Organization (WHO) agreed to recognise “gaming disorder” as an illness at the 72nd World Health Assembly. The Entertainment Software Association (ESA) – which opposed the addition – and the WHO met in 2018 to discuss the decision to list “gaming disorder” as an official addictive disorder in the 11th International Classification of Diseases (ICD-11), but the addition went ahead in spite of ESA’s objections.

About Vikki Blake

It took 15 years of civil service monotony for Vikki to crack and switch to writing about games. She has since become an experienced reporter and critic working with a number of specialist and mainstream outlets in both the UK and beyond, including Eurogamer, GamesRadar+, IGN, MTV, and Variety.

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