The Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB) says video games offering so-called ‘loot boxes’ won’t be classified as containing gambling content.
On Wednesday, the ESRB sent an email to online “Gamer’s Guide” site Kotaku in response to a question regarding loot boxes, which offer video game players the opportunity to collect valuable in-game virtual items in exchange for real-world cash.
The contents of these loot boxes aren’t known until they’re purchased and opened, and critics have likened the process by which players open loot boxes to the anticipatory spinning of a slot machine or a roulette wheel. Calls are mounting for games featuring loot boxes to be rated ‘Adults Only,’ which would severely limit their retail distribution.
But the ESRB says it makes a distinction between ‘Real Gambling’ and ‘Simulated Gambling’, in that loot boxes always contain some form of usable content, even if some boxes contain loot that gamers would consider much more valuable and/or rare.
The ESRB says it views loot boxes 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.”
The loot box controversy went up a notch last month when Warner Bros. announced the debut of an online market through which Shadow of War players could purchase Loot Chests outside the games, thereby offering players a shortcut to making progress in the game, provided one was willing to spend the money.
This has led some observers to make unflattering comparisons to the ‘skin betting’ scandal that recently garnered waves of bad publicity in the eSports community. Developer Valve Corp was ultimately forced to ban third-party sites from using its Steam marketplace to facilitate skin-based transactions, which by that point included purely chance-based lottery-style games with little to no connection to the original eSports title.