ESRB starts putting warnings about lockboxes on its game ratings

Gotcha, gacha.

    
34
Kick it down the road.

You have to imagine that a lot of video game marketers have developed facial twitches today upon the news that they will no longer be able to slip in lockboxes into games without the public knowing. This is because the Entertainment Software Rating Board made a change to its rating system that will slap a game with an “includes random items” warning on the ratings label if lockbox gambling lurks within.

“This new interactive element, In-Game Purchases (Includes Random Items), will be assigned to any game that contains in-game offers to purchase digital goods or premiums with real world currency (or with virtual coins or other forms of in-game currency that can be purchased with real world currency) for which the player doesn’t know prior to purchase the specific digital goods or premiums they will be receiving (e.g., loot boxes, item packs, mystery awards),” the board posted on its blog.

The ESRB said that this label is going be applied to any and all games that feature “packs, prize wheels, treasure chests, and more.” The board said that this change came about in response to many consumer requests to make the presence of lockboxes and their ilk clear. It’s a pretty broad definition that expands beyond lockboxes to “all similar mechanics” that involve spending real money on a randomized item.

Of course, if you aren’t already aware that “random items” refers to gambleboxes and not to legitimate random drops, it might not be much warning.

Source: ESRB. Thanks Pepperzine!
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Bruno Brito

Oh look, two lines of text that people won’t read anyway.

flatline4400
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flatline4400

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Robert Mann

Just… when are they going to put them as a requirement on digital marketplaces?

The vast majority of games sold don’t ever show a rating, because they only show up on boxes that almost nobody buys anymore.

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Zuldar

Could be worse, at least it doesn’t say “Contains surprise mechanics”.

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Hikari Kenzaki

I’m honestly not as anti-lockbox as most of MOP or its readers, but ESRB ratings… they’re super-effective. Just like these were.

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Greaterdivinity

Actually…they are, believe it or not. They’ve successfully kept games from being regulated by any level of government in the US, which was the whole point of them. Just like the “explicit content” warnings on music back in the day (and I guess still? I haven’t bought a physical CD in years)

I believe those cigarette warning were a federal requirement, and they were also part of an overall effective anti-smoking campaign that had successfully decreased smoking over the years, especially amongst teens. Until vaping : P

They work, and while I don’t know if they still do it, when I was younger I’d actually get carded at some of the big retailers when buying M games >.>

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Hikari Kenzaki

They didn’t really help. It wasn’t until this type of advertising was outlawed entirely and people and government started suing the tobacco industry that people actually started to reevaluate smoking.

Steven Tyler famously said that the Explicit warning on music CDs only ensured that they’d sell more copies.

As was touched on below, responsible parenting probably involves reading the ratings on games, but responsible parents probably didn’t need the ratings anyway. Whereas, parents who don’t or for reasons of circumstance are unable to attend to what their kids are doing, aren’t reading the ratings. They probably haven’t even noticed that the kids have put a fake age in their XBox/Steam/Epic account and buy all the M games they want.

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Greaterdivinity

On cigarettes – Never said those warnings were the primary driver, but they were a part of the overall approach that successfully reduced smoking, especially teen smoking.

As for the Steven Tyler quote, I’m sure he’s right. But that doesn’t mean that the “explicit content” warnings didn’t work perfectly. It’s been what, 30-40 years since all that nonsense went down and is music regulated for content? Nope, still not federally regulated, and the whole point of the warning was for the industry to “self-regulate” and avoid actual government regulation.

Which the ESRB has accomplished as well in the US. The goal has always been to avoid the need for governments to step in and regulate, that’s it. Is it actually preventing kids from getting violent videogames? Nope, but that was never the goal. Will these new warnings stop Little Timmy from swiping his parents credit card to stop a few hundo on loot boxes? Again, probably not, but that’s not the goal. The goal is to self-police just enough that the government doesn’t have a strong inclination to step in and regulate.

Because neither the ESRB nor the government can solve the problem of parents not paying attention to their kids.

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rosieposie

Okay, this is laughing in our faces ridiculous and deceptive, nebulous wording. Includes random items??? The green bracers that dropped for my druid in Scarlet Monastery was a random item. The only purpose of this “warning” is to obfuscate the truth and further mislead the uneducated.

Pepperzine
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Pepperzine

It’s stated under “In-game Purchases”, hence your example does not apply.

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Robert Mann

But are those actually fully related? We don’t actually know. Given that it’s an industry group, I could see them doing something really silly for their almost-never seen rating labels and going with the example above.

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Utakata

Their lawyers probably know. Thus it’s likely hoped we don’t get a repeat of this nonsense: https://massivelyop.com/2020/04/13/player-who-claims-a-mobile-rpgs-gacha-mechanics-were-falsely-advertised-loses-court-case/

Pepperzine
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Pepperzine

What I’m most curious about is the impact this has on transitioning to lock boxes. Many publishers say they will not have lock boxes only to introduce them a few months after launch.

Will this impact their ability to do so because they need to disclose this information on all physical copies of the game, thus any with labels prior to the addition would need to be reprinted (or at the very least slap on an update sticker)? Can people get refunds for a change in rating? Can ESRB ratings be easily changed post hoc or is this more difficult from a paperwork perspective and additional reviews that need to occur?

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Tanek

That is a good point. It isn’t like games are likely to add in additional violence or other things that have an impact on the rating or disclosures (other than maybe in expansions, but they would have their own assessment. Or should, anyway).

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Arktouros

I imagine they will simply indicate that the rating reflects the information at the game’s launch state and doesn’t account for any updates done after the fact.

Pepperzine
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Pepperzine

Why would you suspect that? Is that the current industry standard?

If that were the case, a publisher could get any rating they wanted by just waiting to add in violence/sexual themes/drug use/vulgar language in a Day 1 patch.

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Arktouros

Theoretically they could do that. Ignoring the fact the scenario is so extreme that it’s unlikely to ever actually occur (as you can’t really point to an example of it ever having occurred) the only rules specifically stated by the ESRB regarding physical copies is that you can’t lie in the survey they send out regarding your game. So you can’t lie and tell them that your game has no violence only for the review to appear and oh gosh there’s all the violence. However if 6 months down the line you patch in new game content and your non-violent game suddenly adds violence there’s very little public guidance that I could find regarding such a scenario. Separate sales such as DLCs can be individually rated but nothing regarding base game updates or content releases.

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imayb1

My guess is that the old boxes stay the same and potentially keep getting sold as-is while new boxes get a little sticker applied to them reflecting the change in the game.

rafael12104
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rafael12104

Lol! So first, they are so full shit it has to be hard to proclaim such monumental changes with a straight face.

They aren’t responding to the public out cry. They are responding to the private in cry that AAAs are suffering after seeing their golden goose at risk.

And that label will mean nothing to the layman. A warning? LOL! If it is even noticed it will part of the box art. Just another label along with the thirteen others that tell you that Nvidia is present and so is every other developer with a trademark that touched that box.

But I guess they can scuttle the debate by showing that they have acted. Includes Random Items will mean so much to so many…..

Pepperzine
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Pepperzine

Better than nothing.

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Bruno Brito

Mighty N.9 proves you wrong.

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Tanek

Now what they need to do is have a rating that exists between T and M where any games with these “random item” purchase mechanics will fall.

And regulations should require that all such games have a parental control to disallow those purchases.

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Toy Clown

Any lead-in into dealing with the scammy practices MMOs have indulged in over the past 15 years or so is a good thing.