The Entertainment Software Ratings Board, the organization that rates games in North America based on content, is adding a new ratings designation to account for loot boxes, gacha mechanics, and other randomized items. The ESRB announced on Monday that it will specify if a game has “in-game purchases” with random items, an update to the broader in-game purchases warning label.
The ESRB said the new designation — “In-Game Purchases (Includes Random Items)” — will be assigned to video games that contain “in-game offers to purchase digital goods or premiums with real world currency (or with virtual coins or other forms of in-game currency that can be purchased with real world currency) for which the player doesn’t know prior to purchase the specific digital goods or premiums they will be receiving (e.g., loot boxes, item packs, mystery awards).” The warning will apply to games with “loot boxes, gacha games, item or card packs, prize wheels, treasure chests, and more,” the ESRB said.
The original designation — “In-Game Purchases” — will still apply to games with other types of purchases, like add-on levels, cosmetics, expansions, and other downloadable content. The ESRB introduced the in-game purchases label in 2018, in response to controversy over the video game industry’s loot box and randomized item tactics in games such as Middle-earth: Shadow of War, Call of Duty: WWII, and Star Wars Battlefront 2.
The ESRB says it’s making the change in response to feedback from “many game consumers and enthusiasts (not necessarily parents)” who felt the original broad designation of in-game purchases was not sufficient enough.
Update (5:30 p.m. ET): We inquired with the ESRB how it will handle ratings for games that ship without in-game purchases with random items, but add them later (e.g., loot box mechanics that comes as part of an update weeks or months after launch) and received the following explanation:
Publishers are required to inform ESRB if they intend to add in-game purchases, randomized or otherwise, that will affect the assigned rating information post-release. Once the changes are evaluated, ESRB updates the game’s rating information on esrb.org and requires the publisher to include the updated rating information on game packaging, item web pages, and pertinent marketing materials.