The loot box controversy continues to circulate, with legislators now calling for loot boxes to be considered as part of the ESRB’s rating system.
United States senator from New Hampshire, Maggie Hassan, recently submitted a letter to the ESRB president Patricia Vance, urging the agency to “denote when loot boxes are utilized in physical copies of electronic games,” and consider them when determining a game’s rating. The senator’s full letter can be read below.
Dear Ms. Vance:
I write to today regarding an important gaming issue that was recently brought to my attention by a constituent.
The Entertainment Software Ratings Board (ESRB) has an important mission in both providing parents with the necessary information to make decisions about the suitability of games, and their content, for children, as well as ensuring that the industry is following responsible marketing practices.
The ESRB rating system is of great value to parents across the country, empowering parents to make informed decisions on behalf of their children. As technology advances, ESRB must work to keep pace with new gaming trends, including the in-game micro-transactions and predatory gaming tactics, particularly as they are deployed on minors.
The prevalence of in-game micro-transactions, often referred to as ‘loot boxes,’ raises several concerns surrounding the use of psychological principles and enticing mechanics that closely mirror those often found in casinos and games of chance. The potential for harm is real. Recently the World Health Organization classified “gaming disorder” as a unique condition in its recent draft revision of the 11th International Classification of Diseases. While there is robust debate over whether loot boxes should be considered gambling, the fact that they are both expensive habits and use similar psychological principles suggest loot boxes should be treated with extra scrutiny. At minimum, the rating system should denote when loot boxes are utilized in physical copies of electronic games.
To that end, I respectfully urge the ESRB to review the completeness of the board’s ratings process and policies as they relate to loot boxes, and to take into account the potential harm these types of micro-transactions may have on children. I also urge the board to examine whether the design and marketing approach to loot boxes in games geared toward children is being conducted in an ethical and transparent way that adequately protects the developing minds of young children from predatory practices.
Further, I urge the ESRB to consider working with the relevant stakeholders—including parents—to collect and publish data on how developers are using loot boxes, how widespread their use is, and how much money players spend on them.
Finally, I ask that you develop best practices for developers, such as ethical design, tools for parents to disable these mechanisms, or making them less essential to core gameplay.
Following an inquiry by PC Gamer regarding the letter, an ESRB spokesperson offered the following statement:
We received Senator Hassan’s letter and appreciate her confidence in and support of the ESRB rating system. For more than two decades we have earned the trust of parents around the country by helping them make informed decisions about the games their children play. As the industry evolves, so does our rating system, and we will continue to make enhancements to ensure parents continue to be well-informed. We will also continue to provide information about additional tools, including parental control guides, that help parents set spending and time limits and block potentially inappropriate games based on the ESRB-assigned age rating.
The senator also used a Q&A session with FTC (Federal Trade Commission) commissioner nominees to suggest that the government should get directly involved with the issue if the ESRB fails to answer the call. The senator’s primary question to the nominees is transcribed below, followed by a video of the address, as posted to the senator’s YouTube channel.
“Do you agree that children being addicted to gaming, and activities like loot boxes that might make them more susceptible to addiction, is a problem that merits our attention? And, depending on how the ESRB responds to my inquiry, would the FTC be willing to look at loot boxes as an issue independently?”
All nominees the senator addressed agreed to look into the issue further.
Senator Hassan isn’t the first legislator to recently take action against loot boxes and the possible risks they pose. Hawaiian lawmakers detailed intentions to draft a bill against the predatory state of loot boxes late last year, which more recently took the form of bills that would ban the sale of games that use loot boxes to anyone under the age of 21, as reported by Ars Technica.
While popularized by the mobile games market at first, loot boxes have become increasingly more predominate in mainstream gaming over recent years. As of November 2017, the mild tensions loot boxes formed between gamer and publisher boiled over when Electronic Arts’ Star Wars Battlefront II featured a wildly imbalanced monetization system that gave players a competitive advantage for spending more money on loot boxes. The ability to pay for loot boxes was removed from the game before launch, but EA recently announced that it intends to bring them back with unspecified changes.
Source: PC Gamer