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US senator calls on ESRB to take action against loot boxes – US Government might intervene if denied

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Before a game is released it is rated by the ESRB. This organization is similar to the FBP in SA whereas it rates the game from all ages to R18 etc. They are also responsible for listing any other features the game might have such as fear, drugs, sex, animated violence. The list goes on really as they dissect the game and make the public aware of what it features in it. One thing they do not do is list whether or not loot boxes can be found in the game and that could all change soon as a US senator has stepped in and called on the rating agency to analyse the use of loot boxes in games. 

In a Q&A session, the FTC commissioner nominees called on the ESRB to do something about the issue and if they fail to take action the US government could get involved directly. Ms Cortez Masto is the lady leading the charge and in her open letter to the ESRB, she praises the organization for the effectiveness and value they have as a rating board. She goes on to say that they need to work to keep pace with new gaming trends of which are loot boxes.

RelatedStar Wars Battlefront 2: EA talks return of microtransactions

“Recently the World Health Organization classified 'gaming disorder' as a unique condition in its recent draft revision of the 11th International Classification of Diseases,” Hassan wrote. “While there is robust debate over whether loot boxes should be considered gambling, the fact that they are both expensive habits and use similar psychological principles suggest loot boxes should be treated with extra scrutiny. At minimum, the rating system should denote when loot boxes are utilized in physical copies of electronic games.” 

She called on the ESRB to review its rating practices with a strong focus on the transparency of loot boxes and to collect and publish data on the use of them in games. She encourages them to come up with a system of loot box practices for developers to use that will give parents more control over what their children are playing. This is also the first step to making this issue a big one. Just earlier this week Hawaii became the first state to pass a bill that prohibited loot box game sales to anyone under 21. 

The letter can be read below

Dear Ms. Vance:

I write to today regarding an important gaming issue that was recently brought to my attention by a constituent.

The  Entertainment Software Ratings Board (ESRB) has an important mission in both providing parents with the necessary information to make decisions about the suitability of games, and their content,  for children, as well as ensuring that the industry is following responsible marketing practices. 

The ESRB  rating system is of great value to parents across the country,  empowering parents to make informed decisions on behalf of their children. As technology advances, ESRB must work to keep pace with new gaming trends, including the in-game micro-transactions and predatory gaming tactics, particularly as they are deployed on minors. 

The prevalence of in-game micro-transactions often referred to as ‘loot boxes,’ raises several concerns surrounding the use of psychological principles and enticing mechanics that closely mirror those often found in casinos and games of chance. The potential for harm is real. Recently the World Health Organization classified “gaming disorder” as a unique condition in its recent draft revision of the 11th  International Classification of  Diseases. While there is a robust debate over whether loot boxes should be considered gambling, the fact that they are both expensive habits and use similar psychological principles suggest loot boxes should be treated with extra scrutiny. At minimum, the rating  system should denote when loot boxes are utilized in physical copies of  electronic games.

To that end, I respectfully urge the ESRB to review the completeness of the board’s rating process and policies as they relate to loot boxes and to take into account the potential harm these types of micro-transactions may have on children. I also urge the board to examine whether the design and marketing approach to loot boxes in games geared toward children is being conducted in an ethical and transparent way that adequately protects the developing minds of young children from predatory practices. 

Further,  I urge the ESRB to consider working with the relevant stakeholders –  including parents – to collect and publish data on how developers are using loot boxes, how widespread their use is,  and how much money players spend on them.

Finally,  I ask that you develop best practices for developers, such as ethical design, tools for parents to disable these mechanisms, or making them less essential to the core gameplay.

So to sum it all up. The ESRB has now been asked to cooperate with the US Senate to find a way to handle these loot boxes. If they do not come to the party, the FTC will then move forward into talks to see how the government can step in and control and manage these issues. This is one step in the right direction. Star Wars: Battlefront II, what have you done. 

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