The Daily Grind: Does ESRB’s and PEGI’s new lockbox label go far enough?

    
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Last week, ESRB in the US and PEGI in the EU announced they would both be amending their video game rating systems to use a “includes random items” label to “help” consumers identify which games include lockboxes, lootboxes, gambleboxes, gacha, or whatever else you want to call them. I am about as impressed with these moves as I was then the ESA moved to encourage game companies to disclose odds for gambleboxes last August, which is to say not remotely impressed. (That one was supposed to be formalized this year. Somehow, I suspect it won’t be.)

In the case of PEGI and the ESRB, both boards already had explicitly gambling-related descriptors and verbiage that could be used here, if they so chose. It seems to me a conscious effort by these industry-controlled ratings boards to give an inch and hope everyone’s too distracted to demand the mile. On top of that, “includes random items” is super vague and generic. If I weren’t literally a games journalist and somebody paying very close attention to all this, I’d probably have no idea what that meant, even when it’s attached to the in-game purchases label. I’d probably assume it referred to basic ol’ RNG, not gambleboxes. This intentional sleight of hand makes me trust these orgs even less than I did before – a bit like when the gaming giants tried to soften mechanics like “lockbox” with words like “lootbox.”

But of course, other folks are probably just glad to see these boards giving any acknowledgment to the problem at all. Ceding territory, however grudgingly, is still ceding territory, right? What do you think about it – does ESRB’s and PEGI’s new lockbox label go far enough?

Every morning, the Massively Overpowered writers team up with mascot Mo to ask MMORPG players pointed questions about the massively multiplayer online roleplaying genre. Grab a mug of your preferred beverage and take a stab at answering the question posed in today’s Daily Grind!
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Anstalt

Of course it doesn’t go far enough.

These companies are using gambling and manipulative psychological techniques to earn money from gamers. It is inherantly unethical which is why I wont knowingly play any games that include them.

But, it’s not illegal, hence these ratings organisations being able to get away with something so weak as “includes random items”.

Real change is going to have to come from law-makers (who, imo, don’t know enough about the gaming world to make it a priority) or from the game studios themselves figuring out a better business model.

Random MMO fan
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Random MMO fan

Don’t worry, if you really like government protecting lazy and irresponsible people from themselves – you will see plenty of changes if Biden will come to power, he already said that games teach how to kill, I am sure he will also deal with lootboxes in same rational way. /s

camren_rooke
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camren_rooke

Not to delve too deeply into politics but Biden hamfisting gaming regulations is something I can live with given the past four years.

>.>

Random MMO fan
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Random MMO fan

I would rather not have ANYONE hamfisting any regulations, neither the current government (which is also far from being remotely good) nor from Biden government ;-)

Random MMO fan
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Random MMO fan

In this thread: a bunch of old, naive people discussing irrelevant things.

Seriously, who cares what the labels say? Just because the game has lootboxes without guaranteed reward does not mean that your child will want to gamble money on them, especially if you will teach them to be more financially responsible by giving them a debit card with specific monthly allowance for everything and will never refill it before set date instead of just giving them your credit card without any spending limit. For example, your child can enjoy playing Overwatch or CS:GO without spending any extra money on lootboxes or cosmetic items which are sold outside of lootboxes. Not everyone is born with gambling addiction.

And even if you will avoid buying games labeled as containing gambling items without guaranteed rewards – your child can find other sources to satisfy gambling addiction, something which should be dealt with using other ways and professionals who help people like these. For example, consider this situation: your child plays MMORPG which does not have built-in lootbox gambling, HOWEVER some player starts own gambling game (I have seen it in every popular MMORPG game I played) where you do things like roll for specific numbers, where you pay using in-game currency, and the in-game currency is most likely available to buy for real life currency at certain websites – this is true for every popular MMORPG game. Now your child starts to gamble using an in-game currency which he/she may purchase for real life currency, in a GAME WHICH TECHNICALLY DOES NOT HAVE BUILT-IN GAMBLING LOOTBOXES. Or consider this: some of your kid’s friends start some sort of gambling game using cards or other type of games in your kid’s high school, something which I have also seen. Or maybe your kid will decide to join a Discord server for his/her favorite Twitch streamer community or favorite game or favorite anime series and people there also start some kind of gambling game where you can spend real life currency (gambling on Discord is not prohibited and there are Discord gambling bots, some are using Bitcoin and other types of currencies which can be exchanged for real life currency).

In any case, labels do not matter regardless of what they say. Even if game has gambling lootboxes – it does not mean that person who will play them will want to gamble. And persons with gambling addiction should be properly treated by professionals until they will get rid of the addiction and will be able to play any game without overspending on gambling.

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Java Jawa

What they did is a joke, let’s have some transparency this isn’t rocket science.

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rosieposie

Time to redefine the legal definition of gambling and finally label this BS for what it is.

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Arktouros

When the companies in turn just put the RNG into the game mechanics and instead sell you ways to cope with bad in game RNG instead of just directly spending money on RNG what do you label that as? Do you label RNG in game mechanics as gambling? Yikes.

camren_rooke
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camren_rooke

Aren’t gambling odds regulated for things like slot machines and the lottery?

There is an official board who does it I believe. It may have shit odds but you have to have at least a chance before it’s legal. If I understand it.

Is there such a gaming commission to control rng odds for things like lockboxes?

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Arktouros

I don’t know, but that’s not exactly what I was referring to.

In the face of randomized digital goods sold for money being legally defined as gambling companies will adapt to alternative predatory business models that accomplish the same net effect while delivered differently.

We already see this in the games industry with Black Desert Online which offers all of it’s RNG (“gambling”) via in game mechanics (enhancement system) while instead selling you ways to cope with the negative outcomes of bad RNG. So when you roll the dice trying to upgrade your item instead of failing and going backwards you can buy a cash shop item to prevent it going backwards. Regardless as it fails you need to repair it and it sells items to let you repair more. All the cash shop items aren’t random themselves but instead support the RNG system built into the game itself.

So the question then becomes how do you deal with that scenario? Like I was saying below ultimately what things come down to is predatory companies are always going to be predatory and we have no control over that. All we can do is adjust our own behavior and interact with the companies we feel comfortable doing so.

camren_rooke
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camren_rooke

Well if the state controlled the means of production, predatory companies could be brought to heel but thats just me.

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Arktouros

State controlled production of creative entertainment products?

Man I don’t even know what that would look like. Somewhere an authoritarian just creamed their pants fantasizing about it, though.

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Robert Mann

No.

Not only is it weakly worded industry self-protection, but it isn’t even to be found on primary purchase points (see online).

In short, it’s about as useful as a bucket that looks like a hoop.

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Schmidt.Capela

Nope. Anything that includes paid for lootboxes of any kind (or any other psychological chicanery or addiction-inducing trick meant to get players to spend more on microtransactions) should automatically be bumped to AO / PEGI 18. And yeah, lootboxes and similar schemes where you can by any way, even if indirectly, convert real money into a random prize or chance to get a prize should include a gambling warning too.

Plus, self-regulation isn’t enough. Anything that tries to exploit addiction-inducing mechanics to further recurrent sales — including, but not limited to, lootboxes — should be regulated by governments in a similar way to gambling, meaning limits to which tricks can be used, transparency about the inner workings, age check requirements (possibly paired with fines or other penalties for failing to implement them in a robust enough way), etc.

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Arktouros

While you were laying out your noble plans to protect the poor downtrodden masses being exploited by these wicked and villainous companies you never took the time to explain how you would pay for the legislation or it’s enforcement.

camren_rooke
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camren_rooke

Preach it brother! Down with the corprocrats who are sacrificing our childrens lives at the altar of Mammon!

Oh you were being sarcastic.

Damn silent /s.

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Arktouros

Yes and no.

A lot of people talk about regulate it all as gambling however there’s a lot of details in such an idea that never get discussed. For example if it’s regulated someone has to enforce said regulation. There are literally thousands of PC, console and mobile games with new ones constantly being created which would be a logistical nightmare to control. Even the ESRB can’t keep up and usually sends out voluntary questionnaires to people kinda thing. As discussed in other comments games are also subject to being regularly updated so what may be perfectly fine one moment may be a red flag in a few months from then.

All that’s going to take funding and funding has to come from somewhere. You just can’t tack on a massive amount of regulative work on existing organizations. So where do they propose the funding for it will come from? Personally I worry that regulators will just tax us, the consumers, because after all it’s us who wanted protection.

Random MMO fan
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Random MMO fan

Yea, pretty much, all those useless labeling and testing for labeling will come out of the people’s pockets, using either taxes or extra fees forced upon people who purchase games or upon game developers. All of which is a bad thing and not something I am willing to pay for. And all because irresponsible and lazy adults will not want to spend extra time to teach their children a financial responsibility or deal with the gambling addiction of their children by using professional help.

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Arktouros

The whole thing seems weird to me because it’s like “Oh these wicked video game companies are greedy hitting me with all these RNG mechanics and microtransactions!” and who do they call to help with that? Like literally the original gangster who loves to take your money. You already saw people like Biden marking arguments to tax violent video games with a sin tax. Then it’s not like these corporations are going to just eat those loss in profits, like every other taxed company they just pass it onto the consumer. Now everyone is paying more regardless even if you don’t purchase loot boxes. Thanks folks.

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Jack Pipsam

I can’t see a scenario where a sticker will make a difference to design or sales, it’s only there as a vague protector if lawmakers come around peaking into it. Not to mention the issue of these things being added post-launch.
Companies won’t care, most parents won’t loot and at any rate an increase digital world means even less attention is paid to ratings.

I’m super curious what’s going to happen here though, unlike ESRB/PEGI, our ratings is done by an Independent-ish Government body, not a self-regulatory one Industry-Vested one.
There’s a massive review of Classification underway in Australia right now, self-regulation is thrown up in the air as something along with the hopeful (and thankfully likely) outcome of the end of this anti-drug nonsense which caused that issue with DayZ and many-many other games getting ‘banned’.

But… also part of this review, multiple-submissions made in regards to loot boxes and the such. If agreed upon, it could be a simple sticker on the box like these… or it could form part of a regulation guideline of where to place things, i.e. placing them at a higher-ratings bracket. AKA restricting mechanics to adult-only ratings.

I’m torn about what I’d like to see, my personal vendetta against loot boxes verses my logical desire to give the Ratings Board maximum flexibility and discretion with their rating criteria.

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Arktouros

Most soft measures that companies, organizations or governments can take (such as putting on warning labels or disclosing odds information) is pretty much useless. People who still have faith in society and the intelligence of people reason that if they are given information they will react accordingly but that’s just not how people work. I don’t need to see an odds sheet to know my chances of getting the super ultra rare chase prize they show predominantly in their advertising has an almost non-existent chance of dropping.

They of course were not going to use the gambling verbiage because lockboxes aren’t gambling. The more you try to have that conversation the more companies love it because they can debate with you endlessly why it’s legally not gambling while continuing on with business as usual.

The route forward is a complicated one all around. While large scale negative backlash (such as with Battlefront) can help it’s not easy to organize nor is it realistic to expect in each instance (who’s going to large scale backlash over the innumerable mobile lockbox games?). We also know that “whales” will fund such monetization strategies so not spending on our part doesn’t always have the kind of impact we would like it to have. Soft measures like warning labels or odd disclosures are functionally worthless. Hard measures like legislation will be equally ineffective for numerous reasons. In the end it’s just going to be on each person to decide how they want to interact with these things and do as they will.

camren_rooke
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camren_rooke

“People who still have faith in society and the intelligence of people”

You forgot the /s.

Dantos
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Dantos

Drop rates at a minimum or bust.

vgees
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vgees

These boards are just further proving that the video games industry cannot self regulate and inviting government regulation. With all of the people playing games during the pandemic, there will almost certainly be more stories of people bankrupting themselves due to loot boxes. Politicians, looking to show that they can do something, anything, will have little trouble passing bans on these gambling mechanics.