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The Entertainment Software Association (ESA), which bills itself as the “voice and advocate for the video game industry,” on Wednesday announced a new initiative at the Federal Trade Commission in Washington, addressing the mechanic of “loot boxes” (in-game purchases that often contain randomized rewards and have been criticized as a form of gambling) in video games.
Nintendo, Sony and Microsoft — makers of the world’s three major video game consoles — agreed to new policies that would require all publishers on their platforms to disclose the odds of receiving in-game content from loot boxes in games.
“Sony Interactive Entertainment aims to ensure PlayStation users have access to information and tools, such as parental wallet controls, that will help them make informed decisions about in-game purchasing,” Sony said in a statement obtained by The Hollywood Reporter. “We support industry efforts to disclose the probability of obtaining randomized virtual items, known as loot boxes, and are committed to providing consumers with this information for all games we produce and publish.”
Microsoft shared a similar sentiment: “We believe in transparency with customers and providing them information for making their purchase decisions. This is why by 2020 all new apps or games offering ‘loot boxes’ or other mechanisms on Microsoft platforms that provide randomized virtual items for purchase must disclose to customers, prior to purchase, the odds of receiving each item. In addition, we’re proud to offer robust family settings that offer further control over in-game purchasing.”
A Nintendo statement on Wednesday afternoon said: “At Nintendo, ensuring that our customers can make informed choices when they play our games is very important. As part of our ongoing efforts in this area, Nintendo will require disclosure of drop rates in Nintendo Switch games that offer randomized virtual items for purchase, such as loot boxes. This requirement will apply to all new games and includes updates to current games that add loot boxes through in-game purchases. We also offer tools like our Nintendo Switch Parental Controls mobile app, which empowers parents to choose what works for their family, including managing in-game purchases and setting playtime limits.”
The ESA wrote Wednesday in a blog post: “Last year, in response to growing concerns about in-game spending, the Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB) expanded its ratings disclosures to include an ‘In-Game Purchases’ label on packaging for video games that offer the ability to purchase additional in-game content. To further that effort, several video game industry leaders are announcing new initiatives to help consumers make informed choices about their purchases, including loot boxes.”
A number of AAA publishers such as Bethesda, EA and Activision Blizzard already disclose the odds, or “drop rates,” of loot boxes in their games.
The new initiative is expected to go into effect in 2020, though the exact timing was not revealed.
Loot boxes have been a hot-button issue in the gaming world for a few years, with countries such as Belgium outlawing the mechanic. In the U.S., both Republican and Democratic Senators have taken action against loot boxes, as Democratic Sen. Maggie Hassan of New Hampshire implored the FTC last fall to investigate the practice and Republican Sen. Josh Hawley of Missouri introduced the Protecting Children From Abusive Games Act in May to ban the mechanic from minors.
Aug. 7, 12:00 p.m. Updated to include Nintendo’s statement.
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