Although the ESRB had previously ruled on the case of loot boxes and whether or not they are gambling, gamers are trying to sway the organization back the other way. A new petition has surfaced that is requesting the ESRB re-evaluate loot boxes and classify them as gambling. Currently, the petition is at 30,000 signatures, but it is climbing fast.
The petition surfaced on change.org and was started by a Slovenian named Lovro Pirjevec. While we are not here to debate Pirjevec’s case, there are plenty of gamers that support the ultimate goal of the petition, which would essentially remove loot boxes from video games. Not completely mind you, but anything with a gambling attached must be rated Adults Only, and few games ever make it to market with that rating.
When the ESRB first ruled on loot boxes, the organization said that they were not considered a form of gambling because the loot boxes always deliver a reward. There is no element of chance to loot boxes in so much as they always contain at least one item associated with the game. In real gambling, there is a risk of putting one’s money towards the hope of a reward and coming away with nothing.
Put simply, the petition and its supporters are not fans of loot boxes, but getting them classified as gambling is not an easy task. On top of that, the ESRB has already made a decision on the matter and we don’t see the organization changing its mind just because gamers are frustrated.
While loot boxes have been around for a while now, it was only recently that they started to cross a line between cosmetic offerings and impactful bonuses. Games like Middle-earth: Shadow of War and Star Wars Battlefront 2 introduced loot box categories that could actually impact the experience for the gamer, and in the case of Battlefront give players an advantage over others online. Where Overwatch was only offering skins, emotes, and other visual modifications, these other games were, in many ways, letting players pay to win.
Now, it’s important to point out that these types of games don’t directly let players pay money and then gain an advantage; their fate is still tied to the random nature of the loot boxes. But offering items that change gameplay inside of randomized boxes is never going to go over well with gamers.
Perhaps in a few years the concept of a loot box will be as foreign as an online pass, but for now publishers are just starting to test their limits. Electronic Arts is seeing that there is a line to cross and future publishers will likely have to find that balance for themselves. But right now it doesn’t look like loot boxes are going away anytime soon.