ESRB rules that loot boxes do not qualify as gambling

By Cal Jeffrey · 19 replies
Oct 12, 2017
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  1. Loot boxes are a growing trend in video games. Love them or hate them, developers are embracing them as another way to generate revenue. As such, there have been calls for the Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB) to classify them as gambling. The ESRB already has two classifications for wagering in games – “Real Gambling” and “Simulated Gambling.”

    For a game to be labeled as real gambling, it must involve some type of wagering using actual money. Simulated gambling is reserved for games that feature betting with no real money involved. So where do loot boxes fall?

    A spokesperson for the ESRB told Kotaku that loot boxes do not qualify under either category.

    “ESRB does not 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). 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.”

    This is good news for developers wishing to continue implementing loot boxes, as a “real gambling” classification would be accompanied by an Adults Only (AO) rating. Since most retailers won’t touch AO titles, sales for these types of games would plummet for the simple fact that they would be difficult to find.

    Opponents who have been calling for the classification do not agree. John Bain, aka TotalBiscuit, feels that loot boxes are gambling despite the fact that the player always receives something of value. He further argues that players are spending real money on items that are not real and therefore have no tangible worth.

    However, many of these virtual items sell for hundreds of dollars on platforms like the Steam Marketplace. While that does contradict Bain’s “money for nothing” contention, it also seems to reinforce the gambling concept. After all, if you get nothing but common items in your box that don’t fetch your money back on the marketplace, is it not like having a losing spin on a slot machine?

    Likewise, if you score a rare item, you can make many times the cost of the box. You could hit the jackpot so to speak. So isn't the virtuality of an item just serving as a loophole? If loot boxes are the slot machine in the casino, wouldn't the items inside be the ticket that you cash out and turn in at the cage for real money?

    The ESRB has made up its mind on the issue and will not be classifying loot boxes as gambling anytime soon. That said, it is still a controversial issue and I doubt this is the last we will hear of it.

    Permalink to story.

  2. Reehahs

    Reehahs TS Guru Posts: 683   +409

    If the loot boxes are purchasable using real money and the items are trade-able for real money then it is gambling, not simulated gambling.
    alexnode, Uncle Al and MalcolmX like this.
  3. MalcolmX

    MalcolmX TS Rookie

    Since we can not classify loot boxes as “gambling”, lets give it a new name and try to make (ESRB) regulate it as a source of uncertainty ! •Which should be unfair toward the gamers who spends real money for rare items which they should receive but doesn't! This should not include the same concerns for gamers who earn in-game currency for thier boxes; Only because! They didnt use real USD. This should go for a lot of things including Madden ULTIMATE TEAM, FIFA, NBA 2k ... etc
  4. SirChocula

    SirChocula TS Maniac Posts: 174   +182

    Hey hey, get your intelligent and logical reasoning outta here! The ESRB won't have any of your shenanigans!
  5. davislane1

    davislane1 TS Grand Inquisitor Posts: 5,201   +4,309

    From...a dictionary: an act of gambling; an enterprise undertaken or attempted with a risk of loss and a chance of profit or success.

    There is no risk of loss with a loot box. Therefore, loot boxes can't be gambling.
  6. psycros

    psycros TS Evangelist Posts: 2,179   +1,708

    The only way that this isn't gambling is if you're guaranteed to win back *at least* the value of whatever money you spent on the loot box. An awful lot of loot boxes contain some kind of in-game currency. If you can't sell that currency for real money somehow (and there ARE a few games that allow this) then its gambling. And you can bet that pretty soon game studios are going to be taxed for it..there's no other reason regulators would take this stance.
    Reehahs likes this.
  7. Trillionsin

    Trillionsin TS Evangelist Posts: 1,723   +336

    Don't buy them and it won't be a problem. The fact this has been made such a big deal says in itself that it's working, as far as profit for game developers. The younger generations love it. I personally hate it, and will do my best avoiding games that contain them, or avoiding spending additional real life currency to open them. If everyone does this, developers will realize they arent working... but yea hey this is just some ramblings from a crazy man. what do I know...
    Reehahs likes this.
  8. Squid Surprise

    Squid Surprise TS Evangelist Posts: 1,953   +977

    You spend real money on the loot box.... So if you get nothing valuable.... You have lost.... Your money is gone with nothing of comparable value remaining in your possession.... So, yes, it is gambling
    HardReset and Reehahs like this.
  9. Trillionsin

    Trillionsin TS Evangelist Posts: 1,723   +336

    I hate it as much as the next, but I believe "something of value" is in the eye of the beholder, and lawfully, I believe digital goods can be considered just that goods. Just saying, I don't really know... this is just what I believe. NOT facts. Anyone please correct me.
  10. davislane1

    davislane1 TS Grand Inquisitor Posts: 5,201   +4,309

    If you pay $5 for a box of random items...and you receive random have received something of value, by definition. Being disappointed by what that might be isn't a loss.
  11. Xclusiveitalian

    Xclusiveitalian TS Evangelist Posts: 730   +97

    Bribe accepted.
  12. yRaz

    yRaz Nigerian Prince Posts: 2,594   +1,742

    As much as I hate this technicality, it is true that by the real definition of gambling, loot boxes AREN'T gambling. Doesn't make me hate them any less, but my hate also doesn't stop them from NOT being gambling by the legal definition.
    davislane1 likes this.
  13. Squid Surprise

    Squid Surprise TS Evangelist Posts: 1,953   +977

    When it comes to the law, the actual definition of a word - even if from the dictionary - is largely irrelevant. The reason loot boxes haven't been defined as gambling is because video game publishers want the revenue they provide them and the "law" has kowtowed to them, as they bring more revenue into the economy that just about anything else (bigger than porn!).

    Slot machines count as gambling.... what do you do? You pay money to crank the machine... sometimes money comes out, sometimes it doesn't... You always "lose" the 25 cents (or dollar, nickel, etc) that you put in...

    For loot boxes, loss COULD be defined as the money you pay for the loot box - the law has decided not to use this definition for the reasons stated above...

    On a slightly different note - but relevant only in that it helps prove my point - check out the history of trademark/copyright law in the US, and how it directly correlates to the expiration of Disney's rights to Mickey Mouse.... I wonder how the law keeps changing right around the time Disney's right to Mickey would have expired?? Funny, isn't it?

    Edit: oops, forgot the link.
    Reehahs likes this.
  14. Cubi Dorf

    Cubi Dorf TS Enthusiast Posts: 67   +28

    I think it gambling because you can put a lot of money in and get still have bad luck and get only worthless junk out. Kids can blow all their money and get nothing good. It not nice. I think loot box ok if it is bought with fake in game only monies only. Game need to let you just outright buy the item you want if used real monies.
  15. davislane1

    davislane1 TS Grand Inquisitor Posts: 5,201   +4,309

    Said no attorney ever.
  16. BlueDrake

    BlueDrake TS Evangelist Posts: 378   +113

    It's clear they were bribed to not label games with AO ratings, because we know it would deem a large swath of games suddenly off limits. Sorry but they consider it "equal value" then simply, take out the middleman of boxes and let me pay for what I want. I don't buy this whole it's not gambling nonsense, because people can spend hundreds, even thousands on random loot boxes. Can you cash out like it was real gambling? Depending on what it is, you can or can't cash out. Valve's cases in CS:GO seemed to cause a huge issue, because of the sudden "real life" consequences of the "gambling" of skins.

    They have a real cash value, yet in games like Overwatch and the like everything seems to have an unknown value. Just a different level of rarity of obtaining said item, making everything effectively the same price as the crate. They just want to obfuscate the means of obtaining said item to random chance. Effectively keeping it rare because it's a "rare" chance to come up.

    Except what happens to duplicates that are sometimes often, exchanged for what they deem a random amount of currency? So how come your $3 or whatever crate, suddenly has a random value of in-game currency? They just find multiple levels of playing the shell game, obscuring what lines are being crossed in the meantime. Why not simply let me do a currency exchange like others? No, just put more layers in between to make it harder and much more likely to gamble your money away.
    Reehahs likes this.
  17. davislane1

    davislane1 TS Grand Inquisitor Posts: 5,201   +4,309

    Certainly you can show who paid off who with what incentives? A paper trail of some sort?
  18. Theinsanegamer

    Theinsanegamer TS Evangelist Posts: 1,224   +1,321

    But you are getting something for your money. Just because you dont like what you got doesnt make it gambling by definition.

    To be gambling, there has to be an ability to put money in and get squat. As long as you always get something, even if it is a wet nappy, it isnt gambling.

    As much as I hate lootboxes, the law is the law. The definition of gambling, it has been decided, must be changed before it can apply to lootboxes. Me personally, I use it as just another reason not to buy AAA games. Saves a lot of money in the long run.
  19. Cubi Dorf

    Cubi Dorf TS Enthusiast Posts: 67   +28

    I don’t know law of your country, but not true of many country. I think law and morals also different. I only trying ask company not badly treat customers. Thank you for your thoughts.
  20. Squid Surprise

    Squid Surprise TS Evangelist Posts: 1,953   +977

    Not precisely true... there are various gambling sites that give a prize no matter what - but you pay, for example, $10 per entry... 99% of the prizes are worth under $10, while 1% are the real "winnings".

    While technically, you never "lose" - you are still gambling. And many would (and do) argue that the majority of loot boxes gained are worth far less than the money spent on them.... you are still "gambling" - hoping for that rare loot box that is worth as much (or more) than what you paid for.

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