ESRB Says It Doesn't See 'Loot Boxes' As Gambling

Over the past few weeks, as randomized loot boxes have dominated the conversation surrounding this fall’s video games, there have been calls for the Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB) to classify them as gambling in its back-of-the-box ratings. But the ESRB says that’s not going to happen—because according to a spokesperson, loot boxes don’t fit the bill.

“ESRB does not consider loot boxes to be gambling,” said an ESRB spokesperson in an e-mail to Kotaku. “While there’s an element of chance in these mechanics, the player is always guaranteed to receive in-game content (even if the player unfortunately receives something they don’t want). We think of it as a similar principle to collectible card games: Sometimes you’ll open a pack and get a brand new holographic card you’ve had your eye on for a while. But other times you’ll end up with a pack of cards you already have.”

The ESRB, which rates the majority of video games that are sold and published in North America with both letter grades (M for Mature, E for Everyone) and content descriptors (Blood and Gore, Nudity), has categories for both Real Gambling and Simulated Gambling. According to the ESRB’s criteria, “Real Gambling” is any sort of wagering involving real cash, while “Simulated Gambling” means that the “player can gamble without betting or wagering real cash or currency.” The spokesperson added that any game with real gambling will always receive an “Adults Only” rating, which would be poisonous for big publishers, as most big-box retailers will not sell A-O games in their stores.

The ESRB’s argument may not sit well with those who believe that loot boxes are designed in the same predatory fashion as slot machines or craps tables. Many of this fall’s games, including Shadow of War, Destiny 2, and the upcoming Star Wars Battlefront II, feature systems in which you can spend real money to get randomized gear in the form of loot boxes. The addition of these microtransactions in $60 games is always a sore subject, made far worse when they have an impact on your character’s strength and abilities, as they do in these games. (Battlefront II is not out yet, but in our own extensive experience, loot boxes in both Shadow of War and Destiny 2 are easy to ignore, although their existence lingers.)

The resulting outrage led pundits like John “Totalbiscuit” Bain to ask the ESRB to classify loot boxes as gambling, although that appears to be a non-starter.

The ESRB spokesperson also pointed out that the board does add the “Digital Purchases” category to any digital games in which you can buy additional content. [Correction (3:58pm): This post originally stated that “Digital Purchases” applied to every game, but it in fact will only appear on digital games.]

Fuck it.
Hopefully either pressure from the consumer base or the emergence of some new shiny marketing feature will move publishers/companies on from this model.

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They make too much money off gaming consumers to end it any time soon. They’ll have to approach the ESRB a different way. Coming at the issue and calling it gambling is going to get it shut down every time.

The ESRB is correct. In order for it to be gambling there would have to be the risk of loss. With loot boxes there is nothing to lose, you will always gain something. So the question now is what do we classify loot boxes as?

Wieners

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Loot boxes go away when everyone stops paying real money for them. Not a second before then.

Won’t happen. You have games like Battlefront 2 and Forza 7 that make it extremely difficult to advance without purchasing. P2W without the title. It’s becoming the norm and it needs to stop

Forza 7 isn’t like that at all. I haven’t bought a single loot box, have no feeling that I will ever need a loot box. You DO NOT need to buy loot boxes to advance in Forza. There is also no perk to advancing in Forza other than for your own enjoyment and to unlock some of the cars hidden behind progression for the SP career.

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Would you say it was before that patch they made post-launch?

Patch hasn’t changed anything to do with loot boxes.

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I can accept this argument. Never thought of it that way. This now makes me view it in a bit of a diffrent way.

I had considered that angle.
I still think it is different.

You can only buy card packs to get more cards in collectible card games.
You know that from the offset.
Plus the act of purchasing cards is not linked into the gameplay, it’s purely separate.

Also, it’s the concept of digital media versus physical media.
Like buying expansions to a boardgame. Not required, can be fun, especially if you’ve already played the base game a whole bunch.

I will buy the game + the season pass for games that I like. Anything above and beyond that they will not get a penny from me. If I hear that a game is going to require micro-transactions to be successful in a game I will not buy that game, period. Unfortionately I think there are plenty of, I’m going to say it, fucking idiots with more money than sense out there who are more than willing to spend an additional hundred dollars on a game to get ahead… I never will.

I really hope the model crashes and burns, but I have a feeling the game companies will make more money off of the people who pay than they will lose off of those of us who don’t buy the games to avoid it… I don’t see it going away.

It won’t go away because of the whales. I linked an article that talks about whales being only 2% of various games user base but paying 40% of the profit the developers receive. One particular developer disclosed that it’s largest whale spent over $6000 on their game. That’s a social game by the way. I remember Eve Online and the stories of the rich Russian guy that sank thousands of dollars into his corporation in game. If developers can make that much money off of a handful of people it is worth it for them to add loot boxes.