The ESRB has defended publishers and their use of loot boxes in games. The company sent out a statement clarifying why they won’t be rating games differently that have loot boxes within them, despite the fact that they very much classify as gambling.
Game Informer picked up the story where the rep from the ESRB explains…
“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.”
Actually, it’s not the same principle as collectible card games: for real-life cards you’re always guaranteed to get cards, some you may own and some you may not. With loot boxes you’re not always guaranteed to get the item(s) you want, whether it be clothes, weapons, characters, mounts, or buffs. There are added variables to “lose” out by purchasing a loot box they may have something that has zero value to you, at which point you would have to gamble and risk purchasing another loot box to get what you actually want.
You can trade the cards in a pack you don’t want and keep the rest, but you can’t trade any items from a loot box. It’s non-transferable.
You can see how the loot box system in a game like Shadow of War works with the video below from WCCF Tech.
Game Informer goes on to explain that if the ESRB did recognize loot boxes as gambling then they would have to rate the games as Adults Only, something that real gambling must be flagged with when real money is on the line. Some feel the ESRB wanted to avoid flagging games with loot boxes because the organization is looking to protect the interests of publishers.
Another staff member of Game Informer, George Ash, brought up a good point about the ESRB’s excuse for not classifying loot boxes as gambling, writing…
“So I can start a casino in my house, and as long as I give someone a cheap pendant or something after every round it’s not technically gambling? BRB”
While George may be joking about that, others have actually been doing it. In fact, this is exactly what the gambling and betting was like for the Counter-Strike: Global Offensive rings, many of which were ran by popular YouTubers. You gambled on the boxes or bet on the loot crates and hoped to get something good. Even if you “lost” you still were given some low-tier item, despite the fact that it was very clearly gambling.
Also, the ESRB clearly isn’t aware of various state laws regarding gambling operations. As it was pointed out in the article regarding CSGO Lotto and other Counter-Strike gambling rings, loot boxes (which is what people were betting on and gambling for) actually do fall within the realm of gambling, as mentioned by the Gambling Law US website in section 849.11, where it states…
“Whoever sets up, promotes or plays at any game of chance by lot or with dice, cards, numbers, hazards or any other gambling device whatever for, or for the disposal of money or other thing of value or under the pretext of a sale, gift or delivery thereof, or for any right, share or interest therein, shall be guilty of a misdemeanor of the second degree,”
In this case, loot boxes are a game of chance. You can spend real money on the boxes. And there is a promise of a potentially valuable item/reward/gift in return.
The owners of the Counter-Strike gambling rings were forced to shut down when Valve issued cease and desist threats to the website owners following their own cease and desist threat from the Washington State Gambling Commission, who – surprise, surprise – investigated the situation and found that betting money on loot boxes in Counter-Strike through third-party websites was indeed considered gambling.
While the ESRB may not feel that loot boxes are gambling, I’m sure if any state gambling commissioners caught wind of the loot boxes being used in games sold within that state, they might be inclined to launch their own investigation. It might even be similar to what happened when parents found out about their kids being targeted by the Counter-Strike gambling sites and filed a class action lawsuit against the CS:GO gambling ring owners – while also contacting the Washington State Gambling Commissioner to have them look into Valve’s practices of supporting third-party loot box gambling.
(Thanks for the news tip Censored Gaming)
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