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A new video game rating is here to help parents; here’s what it says

POSTED March 1, 2018 10:09 a.m.
The Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB), which offers ratings for video games, announced on Tuesday that it is adding a new rating for video games that include micro-transactions and loot boxes in their games.

According to The Verge, the ESRB’s new rating will let gamers know when there are “in-game purchases” available in each game.

The rating will apply for any game that offers “the ability to purchase digital goods or premiums with real-world currency,” according to the ESRB.

“This includes features like bonus levels, skins, surprise items (such as item packs, loot boxes, mystery awards), music, virtual coins and other forms of in-game currency, subscriptions, season passes, upgrades (e.g., to disable ads) and more,” the new rating reads.

Read the entire statement here.

However, this new rating doesn’t mean much when it comes to identifying games that may charge players a lot of money for in-game purchases. The Verge describes the rating as a “toothless approach to exploitative micro-transactions.”

“The problem, of course, is that there is a substantive difference between these various types of in-game purchases, how they’re implemented, and the amount of money they cost consumers,” The Verge reported.

For example, games like “Fortnite Battle,” which sells players in-game currency that can be used to dress characters, would be labeled the same as EA’s “Battle Front 2,” the controversial Star Wars game that was packed with loot boxes and in-game purchases.

In fact, fans were so surprised by the number of loot boxes — which required gamers to spend a lot of money to play as some of their favorite characters — that the game lost its sales target.

ESRB President Patricia Vance told video game news website Kotaku that the new rating is to help parents understand the risks of every game.

“Parents need simple information,” Vance said. “We can’t overwhelm them with a lot of detail. … We have not found that parents are differentiating between these different mechanics.”

In fact, Vance said that the company didn’t want to mention loot boxes — which ask players to pay real money for a box that offers a random item — because parents don’t really understand the term.

“I’m sure you’re all asking why aren’t we doing something more specific to loot boxes,” she said. “We’ve done a lot of research over the past several weeks and months, particularly among parents. What we’ve learned is that a large majority of parents don’t know what a loot box is. Even those who claim they do, don’t really understand what a loot box is. So it’s very important for us to not harp on loot boxes per se, to make sure that we’re capturing loot boxes, but also other in-game transactions.”

The controversy surrounding loot boxes has made its way into the political realm. Two bills in Hawaii would require video game companies to label their games with loot boxes. These games would later be prohibited from adding loot boxes after release, according to the Ars Technica.

In fact, one bill would also prohibit game stores from selling these games to anyone under 21 years old, Ars Technica reported.

New Hampshire Sen. Maggie Hassan previously called on the ESRB to examine its ratings around loot boxes because the micro-transactions use tactics that may psychologically hurt children, Rolling Stone reported.

“I respectfully urge the ESRB to review the completeness of the board’s ratings process and policies as they relate to loot boxes, and to take into account the potential harm these types of micro-transactions may have on children,” she said. “I also urge the board to examine whether the design and marketing approach to loot boxes in games geared toward children is being conducted in an ethical and transparent way that adequately protects the developing minds of young children from predatory practices.”

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