We have our first instance of blinking in the loot-box staredown between the video game industry and lawmakers. GamesIndustry.biz is reporting that the Entertainment Software Rating Board will add labels to games that include additional, post-purchase transactions of any kind, whether they be skins, subscriptions, season passes, music, downloadable content — or loot boxes.
The label will be found outside the usual ratings box for a game, which typically includes such descriptors as “Violence” or “Sexual Themes.” In that way, it will be similar to the “Online Interactions Not Rated by the ESRB” label that applies to online games.
As ESRB President Patricia Vance put it, the label will be visible but non-specific as to the exact nature of the additional purchases offered by a game, so as not to overwhelm potential buyers — parents, especially — with information regarding all the various ways games tend to make money after their initial purchase. Vance stated that parents were less concerned with the exact nature of the monetization method than they were with the fact that their children were spending additional money, by any means. Vance went on to say that disclosing loot box odds was not part of their concerns at the moment and re-iterated that loot boxes themselves had particular “psychological impact on children.”
While I agree with Vance’s claim that parents shouldn’t be overwhelmed with information, I’m really curious as to what game wouldn’t carry the proposed “additional purchases” label, at least in the PC realm. Even full-price games that are generally well-regarded, like The Witcher 3 or Civilization VI, have DLC, and things just get more complex from there.
Also, while it’s a nice measure by the ESRB, the proposal specifically only affects physical games. That wouldn’t affect any game downloaded online, which includes many of the same games found in stores as well as virtually every free-to-play game. Hawaii Representative Chris Lee is still going to want his bright red label on the website of a downloadable game. It would seem to me that the ESRB’s proposed measure is the absolute minimum that can be done, in the most high-profile location — store shelves — while pretending that online gaming via huge platforms like Steam, the App Store, and the Google Play Store, don’t exist or don’t matter.