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Senator calls on ESRB to re-consider loot boxes

New Hampshire Democrat Maggie Hassan says "at minimum" the ratings system should note when games employ the contentious business model

Lawmakers around the world are increasingly expressing misgivings about loot boxes. As reported by Rolling Stone, US Senator Maggie Hassan (D-NH) is the latest legislator to express concern over the business model, which sells players randomized assortments of in-game items instead of letting them pay specifically for the items they want.

Senator Hassan has sent a letter to Entertainment Software Rating Board president Patricia Vance, asking the organization to update its ratings system to take loot boxes into account.

"As technology advances, ESRB must work to keep pace with new gaming trends, including the in-game microtransactions and predatory gaming tactics, particularly as they are deployed on minors," Hassan wrote. "The prevalence of in-game microtransactions, often referred to as 'loot boxes,' raises several concerns surrounding the use of psychological principles and enticing mechanics that closely mirror those often found in casinos and games of chance. The potential for harm is real."

While Hassan acknowledged disagreement on whether or not loot boxes constitute gambling, she said at a minimum, ESRB ratings should detail when they are employed in physical copies of games. She also called on the ESRB to review whether loot boxes in games aimed at children are being designed and marketed ethically, as well as to collect and publish data about the pervasiveness of loot boxes and how much money players spend on them.

"Finally, I ask that you develop best practices for developers, such as ethical design, tools for parents to disable these mechanisms, or making them less essential to core gameplay," Hassan wrote.

The ESRB addressed the loot box issue last October, saying it doesn't consider them to be gambling because the player always gets something out of it. In effect, they compared it to purchasing a pack of trading cards.

[UPDATE]: An ESRB representative provided the following comment: "We received Senator Hassan's letter and appreciate her confidence in and support of the ESRB rating system. For more than two decades we have earned the trust of parents around the country by helping them make informed decisions about the games their children play. As the industry evolves, so does our rating system, and we will continue to make enhancements to ensure parents continue to be well-informed. We will also continue to provide information about additional tools, including parental control guides, that help parents set spending and time limits and block potentially inappropriate games based on the ESRB-assigned age rating."

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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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