Exhausted of arguing among themselves, some members of the community reached out to higher entities, and now reporters from both Kotaku and Eurogamer have obtained concrete answers from the ESRB and PEGI: loot boxes do not fall under the gambling category in video games.
In the wake of so many gamers raging against the rise of microtransactions and loot boxes, it was only a matter of time before an official body with authority got involved.
Speaking with Kotaku via email, an ESRB spokesperson stated that the "ESRB does not consider loot boxes to be gambling".
ESRB's website notes that it has two categories for gambling: real gambling and simulated gambling. There's also the argument that if they did rule loot boxes to be gambling, any game with this kind of economy would be labeled "Adults Only" AO.
It's true some gaming platforms do have it setup where you can choose whether kids are allowed to access online features, or have certain access to digital wallet funds, or set spending limits for certain users. Their existence also lingers over the upcoming release of Star Wars Battlefront II, where players expect that loot crates will impact the experience in a negative way. "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)", an ESRB rep said in the aforementioned statement.
Are loot boxes a form of gambling? A couple of games have put this poor practice in the spotlight recently - igniting a debate on whether loot boxes, especially ones that have the potential to effect gameplay and can be purchased with real money - should be considered gambling. "But other times you'll end up with a pack of cards you already have".
The outcome of opening a loot box is certainly uncertain, but ESRB doesn't consider it to be "real gambling".
A system of trading has therefore developed, with players using third party gambling sites to pit their own skins against those of other players, or of the site itself. However, some operators such as Blizzard and Riot have moved to offer loot boxes purchased with in-game virtual currency, not real money, to avoid falling foul of trading and betting laws.
The UK is now considering regulation of skin gambling and loot boxes, with a review by the UK Gambling Commission ongoing as of August 2017. Loot boxes are an entirely different beast.
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