Loot boxes have received quite a bit of scrutiny these past few months, with various lawmakers and governing bodies paying closer attention to things like microtransactions and what many consider a form of in-game gambling. For their part, the ESRB has finally made a decision on how it will handle these types of game features moving forward. The rating agency says it will begin to note on the packaging what titles have in-game purchases...
But while some have griped about microtransactions, loot boxes and the like in the past, the debate over their inclusion in games hit a boiling point last fall courtesy of fallout over Star Wars: Battlefront II. EA pushed the microtransaction economy a bit too far for the taste of some gamers, including broken reward loops, loot boxes that offered game-altering perks and design choices clearly meant to drive the player toward spending more and more money on the game.
There are more layers to that whole kerfuffle, but you get the idea. The outcry was loud enough that various lawmakers started to take note and, most recently, four new pieces of legislation have been offered for consideration in Hawaii specifically targeting games that offer microtransactions and the like.
This is usually the domain of the ESRB. The entire point of self-regulating bodies is that governments, legislation, and restrictions don't have to get involved. One of the key roles of entities like the ESRB and MPAA, for movies, is to police their respective industries. Otherwise, the government will step in and gladly do the policing for you.
Apparently enough has happened recently for the ESRB to finally take action and, according to the statement, that action will soon take the form of a new label identifying games that offer in-game purchases. Whether you buy a game online or in stores, there will soon be a label letting you know that microtransactions exist.
The statement goes on to explain that this label will be applied to games that have everything from extra levels to skins, "surprise items," music packs, virtual currencies and the like. Pretty much anything and everything you could consider a microtransaction is included under this label.
While we haven't seen what form the label will actually take yet, we have to admit that this sounds a bit on the weak side. A large percentage of games these days boast some form of microtransaction or DLC, so we doubt that having that label on nearly every single game on the shelf is going to be super informative. Hopefully, the label offers specifics depending on what's actually included in the individual games.
Again, the main issue here isn't standard DLC. The gripe folks have with microtransactions is their implementation and when they're tied specifically to loot boxes, especially loot boxes that give you a very small understanding of what you are actually paying for. If the ESRB's answer is a catch-all sticker that says "Includes additional in-game purchases," we can't help but be underwhelmed.