The ESRB is not often brought up when it comes to who to blame with these lootboxes/microtransactions destroying our favorite hobby. Well as this article shows, they knew about it, and chose to ignore it.
ESRB does not consider loot boxes to be gambling,” said an ESRB spokesperson in an e-mail. “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.
If you ask me, the fact that the ESRB chose to ignore this issue when it was brought up, was because one of the members of the ESRB, had a major game coming out soon that relied on lootboxes and microtransactions which would favor those who spent real-world money. That company? EA. The game? Star Wars Battlefront 2.
You see, back in the 90’s when this country when lazy and irresponsible parents bought their kids whatever they wanted and decided not to take personal responsibility, the government threatened to step into the game industry to protect these ignorant and irresponsible parents.
That’s when EA and a handful of other publishers got together to form the ESA.
Most of the top publishers in the gaming world (or their American subsidiaries) are members of ESA, including Capcom, Electronic Arts, Konami, Microsoft, Bandai Namco Entertainment, Nintendo, Sony Interactive Entertainment, Square Enix, Take-Two Interactive, Ubisoft and Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment.
A lot of well known game companies with self interests against the customer involved in making a self-regulating body huh?
So, wonder why I bring up the ESA? Well, the members of the ESA have oversight and formed the ESRB:
Recognizing the threat of government oversight, the companies decided to establish the IDGA to be a unified front and represent all video game companies at this level, and subsequently developed the Entertainment Software Ratings Board (ESRB) to create a voluntarily but standardized rating approach to video games. In July 1994, IDGA representatives returned to Congress to present the ESRB, which Congress accepted and became the standard for the American industry.[
So, if you wonder why we have a prevalence of in-game gambling with real-money that effect progress in a game, you can blame the supposed “self-regulating body” known as the ESRB, with puppet strings that lead all the way up to those it would benefit most to have anti-consumer practices.
Had I been head of the ESRB, I would still allow lootboxes in games, but it would have to comply with the rating system. If the lootboxes are purely cosmetic and don’t effect gameplay, the game can receive a Mature or Teen rating. However, if real money is involved the game will need to be marked as “Adults Only” and have 70% of the profits from in-game purchases be donated to gambling addiction organisations.
Ultimately, the blame is spread pretty wide. EA via the ESRB is the easiest to blame. They started with making lootboxes/’microtransactions effecting gameplay with Fifa Ultimate Team, they are part of the organisation that decided to ignore the issue, and EA is the company who took this too far.
We can’t forget the irresponsible consumer who have put up with this for so long, not to mention the tone-def gaming “journalists” who would rather ignore this issue or do any investigative reporting themselves to reveal that EA is part of the ESRB and chose to ignore this issue out of self interest. One article or a blurb on a podcast wasn’t enough, they should have been the tip of the spear in boycotting games with lootboxes that effect gameplay/progression. Instead they happily took advertising money and went on as normal. You man hear them NOW that government wants to intervene.
Like I said, the blame is widespread, but all I know is that EA’s greed with Star Wars broke the camels back and possibly ruined a revenue stream for the more greedy parts of the industry. And for that I thank them and their clumsy greed for bringing this issue to light.