A whole other market
The new “Includes Random Items” label can be seen right below the previous disclaimer. This “will be assigned to all games that include purchases with any randomized elements.” That means “loot boxes, gacha games, item or card packs, prize wheels, treasure chests, and more,” the ESRB announced.
“Games that have the in-game purchases (includes random items) notice may also include other non-randomized paid elements.”
The biggest omission is the lack of the term ‘loot box’. Justifying their stance, the ESRB stated that the term does not cover all types of randomized microtransactions. In fact, “less than a third of parents have both heard of a loot box and know what it is.” This new label addition is also partly an answer to requests from “many game consumers and enthusiasts (not necessarily parents).”
#ESRB will begin assigning a new Interactive Element, In-Game Purchases (Includes Random Items).
— ESRB (@ESRBRatings) April 13, 2020
The original In-Game Purchases notice will still be used for games that offer any other type of purchase. This can include additional levels, cosmetic items, DLC, expansions, and more. However, moving forward, games with the randomized purchase will get the new label. This may not be the end of it all, as the ESRB will continue to monitor the marketing trends.
An ongoing battle
First introduced two years ago, the In-Game Purchases label was meant to deal with the invasion of loot boxes. It came after fans heavily criticized Middle-Earth: Shadow of War and especially Star Wars: Battlefront II for their potentially exploitative microtransactions.
The general outrage and negativity towards such practices have improved how publishers and developers deal with microtransactions. Most titles now contain items that players can buy or earn, ensuring that there is no gating of content. That said, business is still business, and there will likely be new ways to squeeze more out of the consumers. We just have to wait and see.