So… all of them?
It seems like it is a response to the controversy surrounding loot boxes and microtransactions- but ESRB has announced its intention to start having labels for any games with in game purchases with real world money going forward. Ostensibly, this should help customers make informed decisions about what kinds of monetization a game might have, but-
Well… it seems like the label applies to any game that allows anything purchasable in game with money. So, something like Shadow of War with its egregious lootboxes gets put on the same level as The Witcher 3, Horizon Zero Dawn, or Breath of the Wild, which don’t have any microtransactions, but do allow for full fledged expansions and campaigns to be purchased. Since just about every game these days gets some form of paid post launch content, that makes this label spectacularly useless.
Speaking to GamesIndustry, ESRB president Patricia Vance explained the reasoning behind this decision. “I’m sure you’re all asking why we aren’t doing something more specific to loot boxes. And I’ll tell you we’ve done a lot of research over the past several weeks and months, particularly among parents. What we learned is that a large majority of parents don’t know what a loot box is, and even those who claim they do don’t really understand what a loot box is. So it’s very important for us to not harp on loot boxes per se, but to make sure we’re capturing loot boxes but also other in-game transactions,” she said.
“Parents need simple information. We can’t overwhelm them with a lot of detail. We need to be clear, concise, and make it easy for them. We have not found that parents are differentiating between a lot of these different mechanics. They just know there might be something in the game they can spend money on.”
If all of this sounds hugely unsatisfactory to you, she does at least say that this is only the first step- and that ESRB will continue to look into the matter going forward. “This is a couple of steps forward. We’ll continue to work with the industry to ensure there are effective disclosures about in-game purchases in general, and more specifically loot boxes. So if there’s more that we can do, we will.”
I’m still not a fan, especially given how strongly ESRB has been lobbying against loot box regulation, but at least this is a step- even if it is a totally ineffective one.