ESRB to place new label on all titles with in-game purchases

Loot box

Responding to the mounting debate surrounding the ethics of loot boxes in video games, the Entertainment Software Rating Board announced that it will soon begin placing special labels on games with in-game purchases.

The labels, which will simply read “In-Game Purchases,” are presumably being added so parents can better identify the potential cost of a game that can accrue after the initial purchase.

As the ESRB noted in its statement:

“This label, or as we call it interactive element, will appear on boxes (and wherever those games can be downloaded) for all games that offer the ability to purchase digital goods or premiums with real world currency. This includes features like 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, upgrades (e.g., to disable ads) and more.”

So, in addressing the loot box controversy, the ESRB will essentially put an identical label on a significant percentage of games. It’s rare for a modern game, let alone a AAA title, to not have some form of additional content available for purchase either at launch or beyond. And based on the ESRB’s rather all-encompassing use of the new label, games with loot boxes will be given the exact same label as ones that simply have an optional season pass.

In a conference call with reporters, ESRB president Patricia Vance further explained the changes, Polygon reports. She explained that rather than singling out loot boxes, the ESRB wants to target what parents care about the most, according to the organization’s research: Their children spending money within games, regardless of the type of purchase.

She also remarked that the majority of parents, based on ESRB surveys, don’t have a clear understanding of loot boxes, which contributed to the reason why the ESRB decided against specific content labels for loot box-enabled games.

Vance once again reiterated the ESRB’s stance that loot boxes aren’t akin to gambling, citing a lack of evidence supporting a connection that numerous politicians have tried to make recently.

“We continue to believe loot boxes are a fun way to acquire virtual items; most of them are cosmetic. But they’re always earned and they’re always optional,” Vance said.

The ESRB’s new guidelines come on the heels of United States Senator Maggie Hassan’s call for the ESRB to further regulate the presence of loot boxes in games.

Along with the new content label, the ESRB started an initiative aimed at helping parents monitor their children’s gaming habits and purchases.