The US Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB) has introduced a new rating note for games with paid loot boxes, highlighting the controversial monetisation method for people looking to buy a game.
The new designation of ‘In-Game Purchases (Includes Random Items)’ isn’t particularly snappy, but will be put on any game that has an in-game offer to use real money for something where players don’t know specifically what they will receive. This is what they term an interactive element, something that is added as an advisory alongside the content-based age ratings, and will not affect the rating that a game receives.
It’s broad enough to cover a number of subtly different uses across loot boxes, card packs, prize wheels and similar. It means that games can’t skirt past a narrower “loot box” definition by presenting things in a different way. Additionally, loot boxes are a colloquialism that might not be understood by someone unfamiliar with the concept.
It’s a second step toward clarity for consumers, after the broader ‘in-game purchases’ label was introduced in 2018. However, the added distinction has actually been made after requests from players, not confused parents.
The ESRB explain:
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 randomized. 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 randomized purchases. The In-Game Purchases (Includes Random Items) Interactive Element was developed in response to those requests. By including more specificity about the randomized 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.
With loot boxes still prevalent in games like FIFA and the NBA 2K series, and with varying responses from governments around the world, this feels like a good step forward from the ESRB to show, though it’s certainly not the end of the debate.