The ESRB recently declared that they don’t consider buying loot boxes in games as gambling. Loot boxes traditionally are microtransaction in which the consumer will pay a small sum of real money in order to get a randomized “box” of in-game content, usually with at least one rare or higher item guaranteed. In the ESRB statement to Kotaku they said “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.”
The ethics of loot boxes is not a new conversation, but has been put into the spotlight with the recent release of Shadow of War, Destiny 2 and soon to be Battlefront II. The gaming community has been outraged recently with its implementation in full priced games. When the contents of the boxes affect gameplay, the boxes gain significance to the game’s experience, raising the ethical question of their inclusion.
There are two different complaints to parse through with purchasing loot boxes. First there is the complaint that a $60 dollar game shouldn’t have pay-to-win elements and doing so is unfair to the gamer who already bought the full price game. The second complaint, and the one that I believe this ruling has more serious implications towards, is that loot boxes are unethical as they simulate the feeling of slot machine style gambling, categorized or not. Although it’s true that the player always gets compensation and they can’t inherently gain or lose money from the boxes, people are still spending real cash for the chance to loot something they want. This raises concerns because although it is not categorized as gambling, the risk is alluring and players spend a significant amount of money on these loot boxes.