Today, in a change that might seem overdue given criticism of loot boxes and similar mechanics, the Entertainment Software Rating Board or ESRB is introducing a new notice for its ratings that specifies when random purchases are included in a title.
As a follow-up to the 2018 creation of the "In-Game Purchases" notice, which has been assigned to any physical game that includes the option of purchasing add-ons, a new "Includes Random Items" parenthetical will be appended to notices for any game randomized purchases. The ESRB's announcement states this will cover "loot boxes, gacha games, item or card packs, prize wheels, treasure chests, and more."
The ESRB goes on to explain why specific mentions of randomized purchases weren't included with the "In-Game Purchases" tag to begin with. "According to research, parents are far more concerned about their child's ability to spend real money in games than the fact that those in-game purchases may be randomized," the post reads. "[S]ince adding the In-Game Purchases notice to ratings assigned to physical games 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."
Given that the ESRB is America's voluntary games rating organization, explicitly addressing loot boxes and similar mechanics in ratings is a self-regulatory move that publishers and platform holders have a vested interest in taking. Last year, the FTC took the Entertainment Software Association's commitment to odds disclosures as a good faith concession, and the more steps the industry takes to enact its own regulation, the less likely it is that the FTC or another legislative body (here or abroad) will pass stricter restrictions.
We're at the point in the loot box debate where prominent games are often choosing to downplay or eschew randomized purchases altogether. 2019's Call of Duty: Modern Warfare removed all "functional content" including weapons and attachments from its premium Battle Pass, and Bungie elected to strip random purchases from Destiny 2 in February.
With loot boxes still being present in popular free-to-play titles like Apex Legends though, the games industry still has reason to be cautious about the business model's perception, especially in the midst of an economic downturn that threatens to reduce entertainment spending across the board.