The ESRB is now going to include an “In-Game Purchases (Includes Random Items) label on any game that allows players to buy in-game items with real-world currency. Even if the game includes items that can be purchased with virtual currency, as long as real money is exchanged for any in-game goods, the ESRB has stated this label will be applied.
Nowhere to hide
In-game purchases have become a staple of the industry in recent years, much to the dismay of many gamers across the spectrum. These were primarily found in free-to-play titles, particularly on mobile platforms. But, as time went on, studios began implementing these elements in even AAA games in order to turn their normally single-purchase titles into continuous sources of revenue. This situation mainly started to get a lot of heat when the topic of kids being affected was brought up. There have been several cases where youngins have wracked up massive amounts of cash on their parents’ credit/debit cards. There’s also the thought of the gambling-like mechanics of randomized item drops being introduced to kids at a young age.
However you slice-and-dice it, in-game purchases/loot boxes do not carry the best reputation in the industry. Now, the ESRB is taking a formal stance against it after research concluded that parents are concerned about their kids being able to spend actual money while playing. The ESRB also admits that “Many game consumers and enthusiasts (not necessarily parents) have reached out to us asking the ESRB to include additional information to identify games that include randomized purchases.” So, basically, the ESRB is finally heeding to the whiplash it has received from the gaming community.
As to what effect this is going to have on game makers themselves is yet to be seen. At least now the ESRB is making sure they can’t slyly just drop in-game purchases into their projects. Game ratings already have to be shown upfront when advertising a title, so now this label will expose any such features immediately.
The ESRB has released a detailed statement on this new label right on its website. In addition to this announcement, the company has also mentioned that game ratings of titles being released throughout the rest of 2020 will continue to be granted remotely in response to the COVID-19 outbreak.