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ESRB Loot Box Warning Won’t Stop Greedy Publishers from Screwing Us

Last Updated September 23, 2020 1:49 PM
William Worrall
Last Updated September 23, 2020 1:49 PM
  • The ESRB added a new tag to their ratings, warning buyers of “random items” available as in-game purchases.
  • This is the latest step in the fight to stop the potential harm of loot boxes and similar “surprise mechanics.”
  • While it’s a move in the right direction, this latest step won’t stop greedy publishers from screwing gamers over.

As the war against loot boxes continues to rage, the Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB) has made another token attempt to warn consumers  about the insidious inclusion of this particularly vile breed of microtransaction.

The ESRB had already started putting “In-Game Purchases” warnings on games with microtransactions. You’ll be shocked to learn this wasn’t an effective deterrent. And not just because a microscopic line of text is unlikely to make people stop and think before purchasing.

Greedy publishers would just wait to inject microtransactions into their games once they had already received a rating.

Now the ESRB is adding the phrase “Includes Random Items” underneath the “In-Game Purchases” warning. I’m sure that’ll help.

ESRB - random items tag
This new tag might provide more information for consumers, but it’s probably not enough to make any real difference. | Source ESRB 

The ESRB’s New Warning Won’t Help Much (If at All)

First of all, it seems like ESRB has been caught up in EA’s shameful rebranding campaign. Instead of referring to loot boxes directly, they use less controversial terms like “random items.” This is apparently because the term is more comprehensive than loot boxes. Though with all the negative press they’ve been getting lately, I’m not sure it’s more effective.

The second glaring problem with the ESRB’s new loot box warning is that it doesn’t address the system’s biggest issue. Companies can still release games without loot boxes and then add them later. While the ESRB can revise its rating on digital storefronts, physical copies remain unblemished by the “In-Game Purchases” tag.

Realistically, this is still a move in the right direction. Anything that can give a consumer more information is going to help. But there’s only so much that the ESRB can actually do.

They’re a self-regulatory body created by the games industry itself. They do not have any real power to stop game companies from acting selfishly. If we want real changes to be made, they have to come from elsewhere.

More Regulation Might Be the Answer

Regulation is a thorny issue. When governments police an industry there is a danger that new regulations will overstep what is needed.

All the industry really needs is a prohibition on companies adding microtransactions to a game after its release. Unless the addition of microtransactions coincides with the decision to make the game free-to-play.

So while it is nice to see the ESRB trying to do something about loot boxes and microtransactions, this move isn’t enough. Until someone with real authority steps in to demand reform, companies are going to keep exploiting their customers.

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of CCN.com.