Games rating boards can't call loot boxes gambling until the law does

Overwatch loot box

Loot boxes are this season’s hot trend in videogame monetisation models. Personally, I feel like Overwatch was the tipping point - a great many major games since have had loot box systems, with notable triple-A examples this year including Shadow of War, NBA 2K18, Destiny 2, and Star Wars: Battlefront II. Should games rating boards classify such systems as gambling? Whatever your view, it seems their power to do so is limited right now.

Which of these upcoming PC games will have a loot box system? Place your bets now. No, wait... don't.

The most influential bodies in the West are America's ESRB and Europe's PEGI. If either of them were to decide that a game offered gambling, that would affect its age rating in a way that would drastically limit its audience. Hence, if they were to decide that a loot box system constituted gambling, loot boxes would vanish from mainstream games overnight.

Here's why that's not about to happen. In an email to Kotaku, a spokesperson for the ESRB says:  

“ESRB does not consider loot boxes to be gambling. 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.”

Shadow of War loot boxes

The fact that loot box systems guarantee a drop of some kind is the key point here, and it’s echoed by the ESRB's equivalent on this side of the pond. Speaking to Eurogamer, PEGI’s Dirk Bosmans says “loot crates are currently not considered gambling: you always get something when you purchase them, even if it's not what you hoped for.” 

The legal definition of gambling isn’t decided by games ratings boards, but “by national gambling laws,” Bosmans says. “If something is considered gambling, it needs to follow a very specific set of legislation, which has all kinds of practical consequences for the company that runs it. Therefore, the games that get a PEGI gambling content descriptor either contain content that simulates what is considered gambling, or they contain actual gambling with cash payouts.”

The backlash against loot boxes is growing, thanks to their recent prevalence. Review aggregators OpenCritic recently announced they're looking to capture monetisation information on games, calling it “a stand against loot boxes.” Many gamers reckon they should be defined as gambling (are you among them, or do you disagree? Let us know in the comments.) But unless legislators revise national laws to reflect this, there's little the rating boards can do, even if they want to.

Paladins
Sign in to Commentlogin to comment
Jnx avatarBreakLegosaurus avatarhuldu avatarShriven avatarJimDig avatarllubtoille avatar+2
Jnx Avatar
69
2 Months ago

Why do people care so much?

1
BreakLegosaurus Avatar
115
2 Months ago

Because it's ruining games. If loot boxes contain only cosmetic items like Overwatch that's fine(Which also has a clear way of earning them easily in game). But if you look at the mentioned "Shadow of War and Star Wars: Battlefront II" all of these contain game progression and content that should be part of the game and not locked away in a box you have to pay even more money on top of the original purchase price.

2
huldu Avatar
251
2 Months ago

This is something you'd expect out of a f2p game, now it's "normal" to see it in games you pay $60 for. Publishers like this are creating a cesspool, while it might not seem like a big deal to YOU, it is to a lot of other players. Every day they take baby steps towards more outrageous ways to take money from their players. Mark my words, soon you'll be PAYING for updates and regular patches for games.

2
Shriven Avatar
3458
Shriven(1 day 3 hours played)
2 Months ago

Its fine having lootboxes in games. That in itself is "fine". The problem comes when you are charging me $60 and removing content to put inside a damn loot box, which is prolly RNG based. Want loot box based economy? Dont charge me $60 and then shovel it in my face.

Cant wait for the dam to break on this and it gets called what It really is, Gambling.

1
JimDig Avatar
5
2 Months ago

If someone wants to try and sell me a chance of some cosmetic-only items, fair enough, I only find satisfaction from attaining them through playing alone.

If someone carves off gameplay aspects that grant advantages in multiplayer or give different difficulty levels they should be made to sleep in a ditch.

Full priced games shouldn't charge for anything but substantial expansions released a fair period after the game, ie not locked away in the release game.

1
llubtoille Avatar
214
2 Months ago

I wonder if we're at the point where $60 does not cover a "full priced game", and these micro-transactions are quietly subsidizing / preventing an otherwise inevitable price increase.

Average game sales have probably hit their peak, development costs only continue to grow, while the store price-tag has remained stagnant for decades (probably fallen if anything - can't remember the last time I actually paid $60).

1
JimDig Avatar
5
2 Months ago

Games have mainly continued to be profitable, despite devs sometimes spending thousands on details we don't need for good gameplay.

What loot boxes and microtransactions have done is triple the profits.

1
*sigh* Avatar
272
2 Months ago

So if that martin fella that was gambling csgo skins had of returned a lowest grade possible weapon no matter what people bet. He wouldnt have had half the troubles he did?

1
Ulondarr Avatar
7
2 Months ago

My views on these issues:

1) Loot boxes and microtransactions should not exist in single-player games.

2) Loot boxes with special effects, as in animations and sound that seem to function just like slot machines at a casino should not exist in multi-player games, or fall under the gambling laws of countries.

4) Pay 2 win in any game that you have to pay up front is unacceptable. I can only accept this in F2P games. In addition to that, these microtransactions and loot boxes should only offer cosmetic or non competitive advantages.

1