The line between video games and gambling has been blurred quite a bit in the last few years with the introduction of games featuring “loot boxes.” But the line isn’t blurry enough for the the Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB) to classify the practice as gambling, yet.
Though not a formal ruling, that decisions was made clear in response to an inquiry from the gaming site, Kotaku about the status of the practice, which is becoming more and more common.
For those who aren’t in the know, loot boxes are virtual prizes awarded to players in video games such as Shadow of War and Counterstrike: Global Offensive. Loot boxes can contain anything from new weapons to use in the game to “skins”, which are used to decorate weapons and characters. The value of these prizes can vary dramatically with rare items fetching large amounts of real cash on aftermarket sales sites.
What throws loot boxes into a grey area is that players can buy opportunities to get loot boxes, without actually know what’s in them. That’s where critics have blasted the practice as a form of gambling that’s aimed squarely at young video game players.
But that’s not what the ESRB thinks. In a statement to Kotaku, a representative stated, “ESRB does not consider loot boxes to be gambling,” said an ESRB spokesperson in an e-mail to Kotaku. “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.”
While the ESRB’s ruling may calm anti-gambling critics for a moment, loot boxes remain controversial with video players. There’s plenty of players who think the practice of selling loot boxes via microtransactions gives players with access to real cash, a real advantage.
Regardless of what anyone thinks, loot boxes have proven to be both popular and profitable, so they’re not likely to be going anywhere anytime soon.
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