Loot boxes are a hot topic right now, with Middle-earth: Shadow of War and its unnecessary microtransaction push at the very centre of the debate. One argument that we've seen spring up numerous times, especially over the last few weeks, is that loot boxes are essentially a form of gambling -- and more should be done to regulate them in video games.
Following up on this angle, Kotaku got in touch with the Entertainment Software Rating Board, or ESRB as it's more commonly known. The ESRB applies age and content ratings to games in North America, so naturally, it's interesting to hear what the organisation makes of loot boxes. Can their inclusion be classed as a form of gambling?
The ESRB replied to Kotaku with the following statement: "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."
We may not like it when loot boxes are twisted into mircotransaction catalysts and stuffed into our games, but we can't deny that the ESRB's response at least seems logical. You may be throwing real money at loot boxes and you may not be getting what you want from them -- potentially tempting you to part with yet more cash -- but you are getting something. That's not quite the same as the guy who just funnelled his life savings into a slot machine.
Still, it's a topic that's not going to die down anytime soon -- not with Star Wars Battlefront 2 around the corner.