ESRB Says It Doesn't See 'Loot Boxes' As Gambling

Pablo Tucker
October 13, 2017

In the wake of so many gamers raging against the rise of microtransactions and loot boxes, it was only a matter of time before an official body with authority got involved.

Contrary to popular opinion, lootboxes apparently aren't exactly gambling, and the Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB) won't designate them as such. And it's true that players can participate in these loot boxes similar to Hearthstone's card packs without spending a penny of real-world cash. As such, they can't make any sort of designations against loot boxes one way or another. We think of it as a similar principle to collectable card games: sometimes you'll open a pack and get a brand new holographic card you've had your eye on for a while.

We reported yesterday that the ESRB doesn't think loot boxes are gambling given that the player is guaranteed content in exchange for money, comparing the consumable items to collectable cards. YouTube personality John Bain, aka Total Biscuit, warned that the upcoming Star Wars Battlefield II game allows real money gambling for loot boxes - but will be released with a Teen rating. "But other times you'll end up with a pack of cards you already have".

This is good news for developers wishing to continue implementing loot boxes, as a "real gambling" classification would be accompanied by an Adults Only (AO) rating. Merriam-Webster Dictionary keeps the definition pretty broad: "To bet on an uncertain outcome". In a statement to Kotaku, the ESRB clarified their position on loot boxes...

Games that receive a Real Gambling bullet point have to meet this criteria: "Player can gamble, including betting or wagering real cash or currency". If you are truly against loot boxes in games, you are free to exercise your right to not buy a title with them. Our gambling content descriptor is given to games that simulate or teach gambling as it's done in real life in casinos, racetracks, etc.

The UK is now considering regulation of skin gambling and loot boxes, with a review by the UK Gambling Commission ongoing as of August 2017. There's a chance to get something you really want, and people may keep throwing money at the game until they get it, just like they would when hoping for a slot machine jackpot.

Skin gambling is not prohibited as a betting activity and loot boxes can be traded within video games.

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