February 28, 2018 // 10:23 a.m.
The US Entertainment Software Rating Board, founded in 1994 following controversy over Mortal Kombat and other violent video games, has announced that it is going to mandate a label for products which contain in-game purchases - though only on physical copies.
Part of the growing backlash against loot boxes - a form of gambling in which players spend real-world money for a chance at receiving a particular in-game reward - the ESRB claims to have received an outpouring of complaints and messages on the topic, and now is offering its answer: a warning label, the same as its approach to other questionable content including drug use and violence.
'The video game industry is evolving and innovating continually, as is the ESRB rating system. ESRB's goal is to ensure that parents have the most up-to-date and comprehensive tools at their disposal to help them decide which games are appropriate for their children,' says ESRB president Patricia Vance in support of the move. 'With the new In-Game Purchases interactive element coming to physical games, parents will know when a game contains offers for players to purchase additional content. Moreover, we will be expanding our efforts to educate parents about the controls currently at their disposal to manage in-game spending before their kids press "Start."'
The warning label, however, will only apply to physical products; games sold through digital storefronts such as Steam, the Apple App Store, or the Microsoft Store will not be required to display any ESRB elements up to and including the In-App Purchases labelling. The label also doesn't distinguish between gambling functions like loot boxes and other in-game content which can be purchased outright for real money, such as additional levels, characters, or weapons.
Pan European Game Information (PEGI), the European equivalent to the ESRB, has not yet weighed in on the matter. The group's own icons, which are displayed alongside a recommended but not legally enforceable minimum age rating, include a 'Gambling' icon for 'games that encourage or teach gambling', but this is not currently applied to games which have loot-box mechanics.