The Entertainment Software Rating Board finally issued a response to the growing controversy over loot boxes and other microtransactions in video games, but its answer is not what most players were hoping for.
Gamers are hoping that the scourge of microtransactions and loot boxes will be addressed, but it appears that this would not happen any time soon.
Loot Boxes And Microtransactions In Video Games
Gamers have become increasingly frustrated with the inclusion of loot boxes and microtransactions in video games. Loot boxes, which may be purchased with real-world money, award random in-game items to players, while other microtransactions may result in a "pay-to-win" environment where the success of players are more often based on how much they have spent on the game.
One of the most high-profile examples in recent memory of the backlash against microtransactions was Star Wars: Battlefront II. Electronic Arts had to temporarily deactivate microtransactions after players complained how much effort or real-world money they needed to invest to unlock iconic Star Wars characters after they have already paid full price for the game.
The disdain for microtransactions has become so apparent that "no microtransactions" is now a selling point for video games, like what Obsidian Entertainment is doing for its next RPG.
ESRB's Response To Loot Box Controversy
In a statement, the ESRB said that its response to the issue of microtransactions and loot boxes is a new "In-Game Purchases" label that will soon appear on the physical copies of video games and on online platforms where they can be purchased.
The label will be used on titles that "offer the ability to purchase digital goods or premiums with real-world currency," the ESRB said in its statement. This will include "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)."
The problem with the In-Game Purchases label is that it will just about apply to all video games being released. ESRB President Patricia Vance confirmed that as long as players can purchase something through a game, it will get the label.
The label is not designed to warn adult players that a certain game offers microtransactions and loot boxes, but rather for concerned parents who are buying games for their children.
According to Vance, the ESRB is not taking a more focused stance on loot boxes because, apparently, most parents don't know what a loot box is. So instead of informing parents and gamers of the random nature of loot boxes, the ESRB decided to launch an action that covers all forms of in-game transactions.
The Verge described the move as a "toothless approach" to the issue, at a time when microtransactions and loot boxes are increasingly falling under the microscope around the world. For example, the Belgian Gaming Commission in November 2017 declared loot boxes as gambling, and is moving to have the feature banned in the European Union.
Will the ESRB ever take action against loot boxes? That remains unclear, but for now, this is what Vance had to say:
"We think [loot boxes are] a fun way to acquire virtual items for use within the game, to personalize your experience."