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Video Game Rating Boards Refuse to Call Microtransaction ‘Loot Boxes’ Gambling

Both American and European electronic entertainment rating boards are hesitant to classify video game loot box microtransactions as gambling.

In an official statement e-mailed to Kotaku, the Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB) said it does not “consider loot boxes to be gambling.” Their official stance lumps the random items players receive in exchange for real-money purchases into the same category as collectible card games like Magic: The Gathering:

While there’s an element of chance in these mechanics, the player is always guaranteed to receive in-game content (even if the player unfortunately receives something they don’t want). We think of it as a similar principle to collectible card games: Sometimes you’ll open a pack and get a brand new holographic card you’ve had your eye on for a while. But other times you’ll end up with a pack of cards you already have.

While the ESRB has a categorization for both real and simulated gambling in games, it has thus far refused to apply either tag to the relatively recent practice of locking game content behind costly rolls of an invisible virtual die. China demands that sellers be transparent about the odds of such purchases; so far, both the United States and United Kingdom are lagging behind in their responses.

The Pan European Game Information (PEGI), the rating organization in Europe, went a step further, putting the onus for such a classification on real-world gambling commissions. Operations Director Dirk Bosmans of the Pan-European Game Information ratings board told WCCFTech:

In short, our approach is similar to that of ESRB (I think all rating boards do, USK in Germany as well). The main reason for this is that we cannot define what constitutes gambling. That is the responsibility of a national gambling commission. Our gambling content descriptor is given to games that simulate or teach gambling as it’s done in real life in casinos, racetracks, etc. If a gambling commission would state that loot boxes are a form of gambling, then we would have to adjust our criteria to that.

While these publishers and rating boards worry about spinning loot boxes’ existence or passing the buck, these microtransactions are becoming guaranteed money for game makers in one of the world’s fastest developing industries. With the growing backlash in the gaming community, it seems less likely a matter of if the unrest over the unpopular business model comes to a head, but when.

Follow Nate Church @Get2Church on Twitter for the latest news in gaming and technology, and snarky opinions on both.

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