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Loot boxes aren't gambling - ESRB

UPDATE: European ratings board PEGI says it's gambling commissions responsibilities to define loot box rules

Loot boxes have become a hot topic in the games industry of late as AAA blockbusters increasingly adopt the practice of making players "win" desirable items by purchasing mystery assortments of in-game content instead of selling it to them outright. Many have criticized the practice, with some calling on the Entertainment Software Rating Board to start applying its rules on gambling games to titles featuring loot boxes.

However, it doesn't look like the ESRB will be doing that anytime soon. The rating board, which is owned by the Entertainment Software Association industry trade group, told Kotaku that it doesn't consider loot boxes to be gambling.

"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)," the ESRB told the site. "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."

According to the ESRB's criteria, any game with real-money gambling receives an automatic rating of AO for Adults Only. As for loot boxes, the ESRB considers them covered by the "Digital Purchases" notice that lets consumers know a game offers additional content for sale.

UPDATE: In a statement to WCCFTech, PEGI operations director Dirk Bosmans says the pan-European ratings board's stance is much the same as the ESRB, although he somewhat defers judgement to the gambling industry.

"We cannot define what constitutes gambling," he explains. "That is the responsibility of a national gambling commission. Our gambling content descriptor is given to games that simulate or teach gambling as it's done in real life in casinos, racetracks, etc. If a gambling commission would state that loot boxes are a form of gambling, then we would have to adjust our criteria to that."

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Brendan Sinclair avatar
Brendan Sinclair: Brendan joined in 2012. Based in Toronto, Ontario, he was previously senior news editor at GameSpot.
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