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ESRB to introduce new ratings label for games with loot boxes

Games that include loot boxes and other types of microtransactions with random chance elements will now come with a warning on physical copies of games. The Entertainment Software Association (ESA) announced that its regulatory board will begin adding a label that reads “In-Game Purchases (Includes Random Items)” on offending titles.

The Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB) began notifying consumers about certain interactive elements in games in April 2018. Originally, the two labels games could receive were for in-game purchases and user interaction. The rating board will introduce this third label to add transparency about in-game purchases.

This new indicator will be put on games that contain in-game offers to purchase unknown digital goods with real-world currency or virtual currency that can be bought using money. The ESRB will still assign its previous warning to titles with microtransactions that do specify what players will receive for their purchase, including additional characters or levels. The ESRB states this aims to target loot boxes, gacha (vending machine) games, item packs, and other in-game mystery awards.

The ESRB states that while parents are more concerned with the ability to spend real money in games rather than if the purchases are randomized, the organization received feedback from many gamers asking for additional clarification. It hopes to help consumers make informed decisions on what titles they choose to support rather than finding out about loot boxes after booting up the game.

“We want to avoid confusing consumers who may not be familiar with what a loot box is,” ESRB said on its choice to avoid saying loot box in its label. “Recent research shows that less than a third of parents have both heard of a loot box and know what it is. ‘Loot box’ is a widely understood phrase in and around the video game industry and among dedicated gamers, but most people less familiar with games do not understand it. While this new label is primarily in response to feedback from game enthusiasts, it is still essential that all consumers, especially parents, have a clear understanding of the rating information we provide.”

Loot boxes have become a hot-button issue within gaming after being popularized by titles, including Fortnite, FIFA Ultimate Team, and Overwatch. The random nature of loot boxes is frequently compared to gambling, and Belgium banned the microtransaction type altogether in 2018 as they were “in violation of gambling legislation.” Last year, Republican Senator Josh Hawley looked to regulate loot boxes in the United States by introducing the Protecting Children from Abusive Games Act.

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