Loot boxes are this season’s hot trend in videogame monetisation models. Personally, I feel like Overwatch was the tipping point – it seems almost every major game since has had a loot box system, with notable triple-A examples this year including Shadow of War, NBA 2K18, Destiny 2, and Star Wars: Battlefront II. Should games rating boards classify such systems as gambling? It seems their power to do so is limited right now.
Which of these upcoming PC games will have a loot box system? Place your bets now. No, wait… don’t.
The most influential bodies in the West are America’s ESRB and Europe’s PEGI. If either of them were to decide that a game offered gambling, that would affect its age rating in a way that would drastically limit its audience. Hence, if they were to decide that a loot box system constituted gambling, loot boxes would vanish from mainstream games overnight.
Here’s why that’s not about to happen. In an email to Kotaku, a spokesperson for the ESRB says:
“ESRB does not consider loot boxes to be gambling. 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.”
The fact that loot box systems guarantee a drop of some kind is the key point here, and it’s echoed by the ESRB’s equivalent on this side of the pond. Speaking to Eurogamer, PEGI’s Dirk Bosmans says “loot crates are currently not considered gambling: you always get something when you purchase them, even if it’s not what you hoped for.”
The legal definition of gambling isn’t decided by games ratings boards, but “by national gambling laws,” Bosmans…
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