After months of high-profile debate and controversy surrounding microtransactions and their ilk, the Entertainment Software Rating Board (aka ESRB) will label all video games that feature in-game purchases with a cautionary message about their inclusion.
ESRB president Patricia Vance stated earlier today that any video game with an in-game option to purchase extra content will get the “In-Game Purchases,” label. If you can buy any kind of additional content from an in-game menu, it’s getting that label for sure.
The label will apply to all retail games that offer the following.
In-game offers to purchase digital goods with real world currency, including, but not limited to, bonus levels, skins, loot boxes, music, virtual coins and any other forms of in-game currency, subscriptions, season passes and upgrades. All of it basically.
This puts video games in line with Google Play Store. There it requires games and apps to state if they have in-app purchases before the customer purchases or downloads them.
The label is designed specifically for concerned parents buying games for their children. This is why there’s not been a focus on details, or the most controversial of all microtransactions, the loot box. Vance says that the idea is to implement a blanket warning that does not get caught up in jargon that could be confusing to an outsider.
The ESRB has not changed its stance on loot boxes being considered gambling however. The ratings board stated back in October that it did not consider loot boxes to be gambling. Vance still believes they are merely ‘a fun way to acquire virtual items for use within the game’.
We certainly considered whether or not loot boxes would constitute as gambling. We don't believe it does.
This move could well be the start of a major shift in how microtransactions are handled. Especially if publishers see a dip as a result. In the meantime, it will probably do little to change the current system. Yet it does at least let parents know what they’re buying for their children. Though seeing GTA V’s continued existence in the charts nearly five years after launch, I’d hazard a guess it’ll be ignored just like age ratings are by a majority.