Stay on target Belgium Officially Declares Loot Boxes as a Form of Gambling [UPDATE]Belgium Looking Into Classifying Games like Battlefront II as Gambling If you’re a gamer or someone who watches the gaming industry, then you’ve heard about the controversy surrounding loot boxes. Though a staple of mobile gaming for years, loot boxes are relatively new for AAA games. Titles like Overwatch contain loot boxes, but few have a problem with such DLC in that title. Things changed late last year when nearly every major AAA game had loot boxes — most notably — Star Wars: Battlefront II. Unlike Overwatch, these titles were specifically designed around loot boxes. Players were practically forced to purchases loot boxes in order to make any meaningful progress. Things got so bad that places like Belgium and Hawaii threatened to regulate games with such DLC. Even now, lawmakers are debating what to do about these in-game purchases.Government intervention in the gaming industry echoes what happened in the early 90’s. Back then, officials sought to ban what they considered offensive or violent games. This lead to the creation of the Entertainment Software Rating Board: a self-regulating organization tasked with rating any and all video games. During the height of the loot box controversy, the ESRB explicitly stated it did not believe loot boxes are a form of gambling. Given the ESRB’s status, this proclamation could have been the end of the controversy. However, that wasn’t the case. Pressure from both politicians and consumers have pushed the ESRB to take things a bit further. Although, not exactly far enough.As reported by Kotaku, the ESRB announced it will add an “in-game purchases” label to video games. According to today’s press release, the label applies to “bonus levels, skins, surprise items (such as item packs, loot boxes, mystery awards), music, virtual coins and other forms of in-game currency, subscriptions, season passes and upgrades (e.g., to disable ads).” This all-encompassing label effectively applies to nearly every modern game on the market. Titles without any DLC are practically non-existent, especially in the AAA market.Interestingly enough, the catalyst for the new label — loot boxes — is not singled out. ESRB president Patricia Vance said the label isn’t designed to warn adult gamers about microtransactions in games. Rather, it is for the benefit of parents who buy games for their children. However, the ESRB did not want to overwhelm or confuse parents with an overabundance of information. The board wanted to keep things as simple as possible.“I’m sure you’re all asking why aren’t we doing something more specific to loot boxes,” said Vance. “We’ve done a lot of research over the past several weeks and months, particularly among parents. What we’ve learned is that a large majority of parents don’t know what a loot box is. 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, to make sure that we’re capturing loot boxes, but also other in-game transactions.”The big issue here is the random nature of loot boxes. Consumers do not actually know what they’re getting in a loot box. For example, a gamer may want to purchase a new high-end weapon. They can buy a loot box containing such weapons. However, there is a chance they may not get the specific item they want. This could make a consumer purchase multiple loot boxes in order to get a desired item. To many, this sounds exactly like gambling. Despite that, the ESRB still believes loot boxes are not a form of gambling.“We certainly considered whether or not loot boxes would constitute as gambling,” said Vance. “We don’t believe it does. We think it’s a fun way to acquire virtual items for use within the game.”In all honesty, the new label is rather redundant given the ubiquitous nature of DLC. Every game has DLC of some kind in it. Furthermore, it does little to assuage the concerns consumers and politicians have about loot boxes. Perhaps the new label will be enough to keep politicians from imposing regulations on games. After all, the last thing anyone wants is for the government to intervene in the gaming industry. However, the new label may not be enough. I suppose it’s too early to tell at this juncture. I’m going to assume the ESRB is talking with lawmakers behind the scenes about this subject even as we speak.So where do we go from here? After all, labels from the ESRB can only go so far. Now that game publishers see the negative reactions to loot boxes and similar DLC, it would be wise for them to reassess how to better implement this type of content. Overwatch has a loot box system gamers are generally happy with. This is because those loot boxes only offer cosmetic items. One doesn’t need a new hat or boots in order to progress. Loot box systems like those in Star Wars: Battlefront II, Middle-Earth: Shadow of War, and Need for Speed: Payback are what people take issue with. It’s not really my place to tell companies how to do business, but perhaps it would be best to leave loot boxes out of $60 games. Again, there are other forms of DLC a publisher can implement to generate additional revenue.I’m going to remain optimistic on this one. At the end of the day, video game companies are in the business of making money. They will surely stop doing anything hurting their bottom line. The (relatively) low sales of Star Wars: Battlefront II is no doubt making EA reassess loot box systems in their titles. I’m sure other publishers are going back to the proverbial drawing board as well. If that’s the case then perhaps, in the end, this whole controversy was necessary. The year is still young, so we’ll just have to wait and see how loot boxes will be implemented moving forward.