The ESRB's Response to Loot Boxes Falls Pathetically Short of Real Change

Loot boxes are a problem. The industry has known this for a while, but was caught flat-footed in 2017 when it came to doing something about it, largely because they make a lot of money (and figured the issue would eventually go away). In response, players took their own actions, contacting governments and members of Congress. Earlier this month, a Senator threatened to involve the FTC if the ESRB didn't investigate the issue. In pursuit of change, it made sense for loot box critics to ask for guidance from the Entertainment Software Ratings Board, the industry group who handles content ratings and ultimately acts as an intermediary between consumers and publishers.

This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at

Hard to imagine an organization made to keep government regulation out of an industry wouldn’t be particularly interested in regulating the industry :upside_down_face:

That conference referenced at the end as well, seems like an entire thing…


EDIT: There are reasons to be worried about censorship, yes, but specifically mentioning the recognition of gaming disorder and looking into legislation against loot boxes as big government trying to censor creators seems misguided.

The big publishers are really playing with fire on this one. I understand the pressure is on to protect this practice at all costs given the money involved, but the longer they kick this can down the road (or try to put a paper towel over the can to pretend it doesn’t exist) the higher chance there is of an overreach so large that it turns off millions of people at once.

People do not have unlimited money to spend and if they allow this poison to spread in a way that starts affecting gameplay in a significant way, they’ll gonna lose people in a slow drip to other forms of entertainment that doesn’t constantly beg you for money.


This is pretty crazy. If she thinks that parents do not have a good grip on what a loot box is, there is no way the Government is gonna be able to discern a loot box from say… a loot drop. The ESRB needs to get a lot more hands one here. If not, there is no reason to think the Government wouldn’t make some kind of overstep here and make a miscalculated plan of action that will leave a much larger impact on the gaming industry,

it’ll at least work when it comes to coercing developers. remember when this topic first came up in the fall, and developers on twitter were furious because they thought everyone was asking them to take a paycut?

the games industry is uncomfortably good at fostering a culture where putting the blame on everyone but the people actually responsible is always the first option. it’s not that a publisher fumbled the gambling mechanic so badly that journalists and goverment officials are realizing that it’s a gambling mechanic, it’s that they’re taking your extra money away because the Evil Big Government and/or Evil Big Kotaku Writer wants to censor you, or whatever. never mind that the path an industry has to take to where this is required to pay your workers is an industry destined to cave in on itself, never mind that they’re actively exploiting literal children and gambling addicts in doing so, because they’re never told those part, they’re just told that it absolutely has to happen, or they won’t have a job anymore.

…which is also probably why they’re likely to be screwing themselves over with this one, because the people in charge of legislation aren’t in the game industry. it’s easy to get your own workers to rely so hard on what you’re saying when their jobs are on the line, it’s going to be a bit harder to convince lawmakers who caught you selling gambling loops to teenagers, and already held a bias against your industry for decades. if anyone involved here has any smarts, they should be trying to specifically narrow these laws down to this specific gamble-y brand of lootbox and cut their losses, because unless they get lucky, there’s going to be a much bigger industry-wide impact if they don’t


Maybe I’m being too cynical, but I can’t help thinking that the overly broad classification is a deliberate marketing ploy. From Kotaku’s article:

ESRB president Patricia Vance said that any video game with an in-game option to purchase extra content will get the “In-Game Purchases,” label, whether that content comprises premium currency or a $20 expansion pack.

As long as you can buy something through a game’s menu, the game will get this label.

The ESRB could’ve had separate labels for “boosters” like loot boxes or coin doublers and “content” like expansions or level packs. That would be the best way to inform people what they’re buying. The problem is that puts a huge red flag on any game that gets the booster label and there’s no way an organization run by a lobbying group would ever threaten the sales of the companies funding them.By grouping everything under one umbrella it hides the predatory microtransactions with more acceptable add-ons.

Then again, this just seems super likely to backfire for the ESA. If a company spends millions of dollars making a AAA game with substantial $20 dlc they’re not going to appreciate being lumped in with shadier games under a catch all label and possibly lose sales because of it.

I don’t know, maybe I’m just seeing conspiracy theories where there’s only incompetence and panic.

The industry is going to be so fucked when some US Attorney gets bored and goes after them for unregulated internet gambling.

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If it was possible for other forms of entertainment to adopt the same model, you can be damned sure they would. Thankfully, no one’s figured out how to do the same thing with a movie or book yet. :upside_down_face:

No, because the publishers that put out AAA games with DLC don’t want to do that anymore.

They’d much rather have a market based on loot boxes and microtransactions, because it’s become provably more profitable for them. This is all stuff that was touched on when Waypoint covered the Battlefront 2 debacle last year, and which has been covered in multiple threads on this forum (just search for “loot box”).

Given that states are starting to draft their own bills around loot boxes, this will probably happen sooner than the industry thinks.

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Of course the ESA will side with whoever’s making them more money, I’m just surprised they did it in a way that could alienate the publishers who release worthwhile dlc. It’s not hard to imagine someone walking into a Gamestop, looking at (off the top of my head) Horizon, either Dishonored, any Dark Souls, The WItcher 3, or even Skyrim, and thinking, “Oh, this game is trying to nickle and dime me with those loot boxes I’ve heard about. Thanks for the warning ESRB.” It’s a massive misrepresentation that protects a bubble about to burst at the expense of a more stable market.

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I mean, yes, it totally is conflating a bunch of different things in other to give cover to loot boxes. But also, the market isn’t stable, and has not been so for a very long time. The actual bubble here is the cost of AAA development, which everyone thinks is bound to pop, but no one knows when.

There’s an argument to be made that it’s less likely publishers would be pushing loot boxes so hard if they weren’t already concerned about the numbers. There’s also an argument that publishers do not care, and would take the extra money even if they were doing OK with normal sales + DLC. Either way, neither really resolves the underlying problem.

Of course none of this helps developers, who are screwed either way. If anything, devs make out worse under a loot box model, because fans think it’s OK to trash and harass devs on social media for decisions their publisher makes, quality of the game be damned.

My impression is that many fans think it’s OK to trash and harass creators on social media for decisions their publisher makes regardless of whether it’s loot boxes or something else.

edited to emphasize what I’m replying to

… that’s what I said. Loot boxes is just another convenient excuse.

The conflation of “creative and business decisions” gives away the game here. In general, people are much more likely to favor government regulations on business practices than they are to favor government regulations on art, speech, etc. Publishers or studios convincing people (or themselves?) that loot boxes are some sort of artistic expression is a good way to keep the ball rolling a little bit longer.

As you said, it’s always worth being wary of outright censorship or situations where calls to ban one type of problematic content or behavior suddenly balloon out into larger bans that capture legitimate but “undesirable” content. But that seems like a low risk when focusing on loot boxes. Indeed, the ESRB itself is the one who is suddenly pulling in things like story expansions, map packs, and other ordinary DLC to address fairly specific and narrow complaints about loot boxes.

I’m never buying a loot box ever again.