I’ve covered this topic in several articles here on PlusGaming. As an avid gamer, I’m a strong believer in consumer protection. The gaming industry has had no regulations on microtransactions and Loot Boxes. For some time now, the ESRB stated that Loot Boxes are not gambling. So far, they appear to be standing beside that decision. However, the ESRB has announced they will be adding a “In-Game Purchases” label when rating video games. This will help inform parents if a game has additional purchase options in-game. Android and Apple notify customers if any game has “In-App Purchases.”
Is this good enough from the ESRB?
This is a good first step in the right direction. In-Game Purchases is a very broad term. It doesn’t reveal just how greedy a developer/publisher is with a specific game. These microtransactions could be one-time purchases for an outfit or weapon. However, it could also be something as predatory as loot boxes during Star Wars Battlefield 2’s beta. For me, this seems mostly as an attempt to “Fix” the problem without truly fixing it. It seems like an attempt to validate weaker claims that the ESRB is regulating this problem in the industry when it still isn’t.In a previous article I wrote for PlusGaming, a video uploaded by Chris Lee couldn’t get any straight answers from the ESA Lobbyist. The Lobbyist claimed that the ESRB was regulating and informing parents of the content of the games. When asked if the ESRB was taking microtransactions and Loot Boxes into account when rating a game, he “could not answer.” With In-Game Purchases label, he can claim that the ESRB is factoring it into the game’s rating. Honestly, that’s probably what they are hoping for. Fix the problem without actually fixing the problem and outdate the outrage.
What Knowledgeable Consumers are Wanting
Chris Lee and other State Representatives, Governors, Senators, and even Congressmen are discussing laws that will be better than the ESRB’s band-aid on a festering wound.
- “Randomized Rewards” (AKA Loot Boxes) should be considered a form of gambling and any game with this must be age restricted to Adults 21+ as per most Gambling Age Requirements in America.
- Games with “Randomized Rewards” (AKA Loot Boxes) should have a clear label ON THE FRONT OF THE BOX. Like the M for Mature Rating Label, not “In-Game Purchases” stuck into a small white box in the back corner of the game case.
- Any Loot Boxes must disclose odds of winning any and all randomized rewards.
Other news outlets covering this topic have noticed the exact same thing I have. The ESA (who formed the ESRB and is an arm of the Video Game Industry Lobbyist Group) have taken a very weak stand in protecting consumers from predatory gameplay mechanics. These mechanics implemented by some producers and developers who put far more value in Profit over Ethics.
But making video games are hard and expensive.
We have heard this excuse from developers/producers. Claiming that it’s too expensive to make games without microtransactions. Activision in 2017 made around 7.16 billion dollars, which is a record high for Activision. Of that, over 4 Billion dollars came directly from in-game purchases. While games are getting more expensive to make, many developers still have no problems turning a profit on their games. We have several developers who make games without Loot Box Gambling and they are still alive. Many point their finger to CD Projekt Red, a game developer/producer who has earned a lot of praise from customers for their desire to make games and not prey on their customers. Even going so far as to say “We’ll leave the greed to others.”
“The definition of ‘many’ may vary on a title-by-title basis, but in our case it was always 50-60+ hours of the main story-line, with up to a couple of hundred of hours of side activities—if you really wanted to max out the title. To me, this is a fair deal. You get what you paid for, plus we are always trying our best to over-deliver. There is no better PR than a happy gamer recommending your title to their friends.” – CD Projekt Red CEO Adam Kiciński
Is the fight over?
Highly doubtful. Hawaii has already crafted 4 bills to ensure that any games sold in Hawaii must have a label warning of Loot Box Gambling. If it does have Loot Box Gambling, it can’t be sold to anyone under 21. Other State Representatives, Governors, Senators, etc. are looking into doing this exact same thing for their states. With any luck, these very same rules that Chris Lee is fighting for will be adopted by the ESRB before the government has to step in.