Modern video games which include paid-for loot boxes could be exposing young players to gambling risks, popular gaming YouTuber John Bain has warned. Love them or hate them, developers are embracing them as another way to generate revenue.
Furthermore, the loot system can not fall under the gambling definition since digital items do not have intrinsic value.
The ESRB has an Adults-Only rating that is applied to content with real-world gambling, but it's tied to actual gambling (ie poker or blackjack) using real-world money. A couple of games have put this poor practice in the spotlight recently - igniting a debate on whether loot boxes, especially ones that have the potential to effect gameplay and can be purchased with real money - should be considered gambling. "Should there be any gambling or gambling related mechanics in a game, ESRB assigns one of two content descriptors as part of the rating: "Simulated Gambling" (player can simulate gambling without betting or wagering real cash or currency) and "Real Gambling" (player can actually gamble, including betting or wagering real cash or currency)". Can their inclusion be classed as a form of gambling? The videogame community is growing angry about these developments, but official bodies like the Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB) don't see a problem. We think of it as a similar principle to collectable card games: sometimes you'll open a pack and get a brand new holographic card you've had your eye on for a while. In a statement to Kotaku, the ESRB clarified their position on loot boxes...
Because the player always received something, it was likened to buying collectible cards, where some packs will contain more valuable cards than others.
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Essentially, the rating boards can't really define what is and isn't gambling.
What do you make of the situation? You could hit the jackpot so to speak. Skins are virtual game items, such as weapons and clothing, or even just a paint job for an existing in-game weapon. If loot boxes are the slot machine in the casino, wouldn't the items inside be the ticket that you cash out and turn in at the cage for real money?
It's unlikely the ESRB will change its stance on loot boxes anytime soon, but hopefully publishers take note of the backlash against the heavy-handed way they've been implemented. That said, it is still a controversial issue and I doubt this is the last we will hear of it.