In-Game Purchases Label Now In Effect at ESRB

After months of debate among gamers, the ESRB has finally stepped up to do something about loot boxes and microtransactions. On Tuesday they announced that they will begin adding an "in-game purchases" label to physical/boxed video games. If it's a digital only game, it may be devoid of the label for a while until the ESRB determines how to proceed from here.

ESRB President Patricia Vance commented in the press release that this move is to help notify consumers and parents the full extent of the meaning of purchasing a game - the the price point can go beyond the game store. “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’.”

It's a nice enough sentiment that push-back has been felt at the ESRB enough for them to see that yes, they do need to address the microtransaction issue. And that they want to take it a step further and provide educational material so people can learn more - their website is full of good resources.

But as a number of news outlets have pointed out, the "in-game purchases" label can be applied to nearly every game currently on the market. Microtransactions, loot boxes, DLC - these are all paid additions to a video game and fall under the same label of "in-game purchases." Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild has DLC, therefore it would receive this new label. MMO's such as World of Warcraft and Final Fantasy XIV would get the label, though their purchases are purely cosmetic and have no effect on how you play the game. Unlike Assassin's Creed: Unity which did require you to pony up money to get past "secret" areas of the game. Unfortunately the blanket term doesn't properly distinguish between games that have microtransactions as a cosmetic feature, and the microtransactions that are needed to play the game.

On top of this, the ESRB's stance on loot boxes remains. They don't see it as gambling and are not pushing to have publishers/developers reveal the lottery chances on receiving X,Y,Z items. The research done by the ESRB regarding this new label, according to Vance, focused on parents. "What we’ve learned is that a large majority of parents don’t know what a loot box is." " So it’s very important for us to not harp on loot boxes per se, to make sure that we’re capturing loot boxes, but also other in-game transactions.”

While that's a nice sentiment, it's making an assumption that this is 1992 and only kids play video games. They don't. The average age of a gamer is now 35, and that number is steadily increasing every year. While some parents may not care about loot boxes, the vast majority of those buying video games do.

It's an okay attempt for the ESRB to appease gamers. However, if they want to be proactive before the government steps in, they need to provide a comprehensive system that appeases all parties. You can find a balance to inform parents about microtransactions, while providing details to adult gamers about loot box win rates. It's not difficult. China's "loot box law" has been in effect for nearly a year and provides information and education to consumers in an efficient manner.

Step it up ESRB.