The ESRB Doesn't Consider Loot Boxes to be Gambling

"We think of it as a similar principle to collectible card games"

News by Matt Kim, .

As the debate around loot box practices in video games continues, the Entertainment Software Rating Board - or ESRB - has weighed in on the matter by stating that the organization does not consider loot boxes to be gambling.

"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)," said the group in a statement to Kotaku.

Star Wars Battlefront 2 Loot Boxes

The ESRB actually likened loot boxes more to trading cards than gambling saying, "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 heave."

The ESRB is the advisory board in charge of assigning ratings to video games. According to its own criteria, a game with real-money gambling will automatically receive an AO (Adults Only) rating which severely limits its marketing (stores like GameStop do not carry AO rated games). For its part, the ESRB considers loot boxes as covered by the "Digital Purchases" notification for customers, which presumably means the board doesn't see the need to add a special designation for games with loot boxes.

Loot boxes have become a hot button issue among gamers. While there was always grumbling when it came to DLC or cosmetic purchases, recent games like Middle-earth: Shadow of War and Star Wars Battlefront 2 have come under particular fire for charging customers for items that could potentially help players beat the game. The lack of control over how to purchase these upgrades have some critics calling the loot systems gambling.

As far as the ESRB is concerned however, it seems that the board feels no need to come out against loot boxes just yet, even as they become a more regular feature in full-priced video game releases.

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Comments 7

  • Avatar for retr0gamer #1 retr0gamer 4 months ago
    I think the opinion of a board like the ESRB doesn't hold any weight. It's a self governing body run by industry leaders and there is no way they are going to bad mouth a practice that us currently making them stinking rich.
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  • Avatar for nimzy #2 nimzy 4 months ago
    I'm sure, legally, they're in the clear. The theory around it is less clear: it is "not gambling" in the sense that the outcome is assured: you are guaranteed to get something from a group of items. This is why collectible card games and trading cards aren't considered gambling.

    Psychologically it is gambling. You're paying for a chance to get something you want, and if you don't get the thing you want but instead something else, you lose.
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  • Avatar for SargeSmash #3 SargeSmash 4 months ago
    I agree with that it's not gambling. However, the presence of loot boxes usually leads me to ignore that game entirely.Edited October 2017 by SargeSmash
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  • Avatar for Thetick #4 Thetick 4 months ago
    @retr0gamer that’s a bit cynical. They are just there to judge the game by industry standards. They are not there to tell adult people what to do with their money. And both MS and Sony have options to restrict how childeren play and pay with real money online. So it must be sony or MS to decide if the loot thing has gotten out of control on their systems. Not the ESRB.
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  • Avatar for MetManMas #5 MetManMas 4 months ago
    @nimzy Definitely. Physical goods have more of a permanence to them, and retail stores have limited space. Digital goods, on the other hand, are only there as long as you hold onto that save data and space is only finite when devs artificially make it finite to make cash off selling you more space.

    There's literally no reason for digital games to have gashapons or temporary power-ups or stamina bar nonsense but to exploit the addicts, whales with boatloads of cash to blow, and dumb children to get rich off sleazy business practices.
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  • Avatar for Arvis-Jaggamar #6 Arvis-Jaggamar 4 months ago
    In a strict sense, "gambling" can only be applied to wagering money for money. Wagering money for other stuff I don't think qualifies.
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  • Avatar for Iliya-Moroumetz #7 Iliya-Moroumetz 4 months ago
    Just because the ESRB doesn't think they are, doesn't mean it isn't.

    Frankly, the ESRB doesn't have the consumer in their best interest, as the loot boxes indirectly makes them money.
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