>But I do respect Lee’s consistency of message, that there’s at least a class of microtransactions that deserve more attention. I still think he and his colleagues face a steep challenge, because it can still be argued they’re seeking to regulate content, and video game publishers won big against that effort in 2011 when the Supreme Court threw out a California law and found video games to be protected works of free expression.
>For its part, the ESRB seems unwilling to call out loot boxes as any kind of special or distinctive transaction. It was pointed out to Vance that the ESRB has content descriptors for gambling (and “simulated gambling”). Not that I expected the ESRB — a creation of the Entertainment Software Association — to regulate them as such. The ESA has been clear since the Battlefront 2 controversy broke that it does not consider loot boxes to be gambling, as Lee and other regulators and lawmakers allege.
>”I’m sure you’re all asking why we did not do something more specific to loot boxes,” Vance said. And, yeah, we were. She pointed to focus-group research that suggested parents weren’t familiar with the concept, and even those who were, weren’t actually informed about what a loot crate involves.
>A more specific warning is needed
>To my mind, that would suggest the necessity of a warning more specific than the ESRB is offering, rather than a blanket label that equates story extension DLC with a spin at the wheel for virtual items. The ESRB’s thrust is clear: Drive the focus toward parental controls that are available on consoles and other systems, which we’ve called a problem already solved. This isn’t surprising, and this approach was suggested to me by others within the industry a couple of weeks ago after the Hawaii legislation was introduced.
>A public service campaign calling attention to the parental support a console provides — and has provided for years — is fine. What’s bothering everyone is this is an industry trend, and the only way that can effectively be regulated is if no one’s buying it. Good luck with that, especially on something as popular as The Lord of the Rings, Star Wars or Call of Duty.
>The ESRB may not be in a position where it can tell publishers what it can and can’t do — its purpose is to describe, not regulate. But it’s supposed to provide meaningful advisories to video game consumers, and this in-game purchases label really isn’t one. The reminder to use sub-accounts and set spending controls — and the fact such controls are available — is useful.
>But the ESRB’s muddled approach seems to be preserving the option of loot crate systems in video games in hopes the popular opposition to them dies off soon.
>”It’s a missed opportunity and perhaps even a step backward for the ESRB and the ESA,” Lee said. “They could have taken meaningful and proactive steps, but this seems to be doubling down on loot boxes and simulated gambling mechanics."