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ESRB to assign ‘In-Game Purchases’ label to games

The ESRB hopes to spare parents the pain of their kids overspending with a new warning label for ‘In-Game Purchases’.

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ESRB label

The ESRB hopes to spare parents the pain of their kids overspending with a new warning label for ‘In-Game Purchases’.

If you thought the ESRB, the North American video games rating board, had been quiet on the issue of microtransactions, you weren’t alone. As it turns out, even the ESRB themselves had noticed they were conspicuous in their lack of a response.

Today, on Twitter, they broke that silence.

You may have noticed that we’ve been a little quiet on the topic of in-game purchases and loot boxes, but we’ve been listening. In fact, we’ve absorbed every tweet, email, Facebook post and singing telegram sent our way, and we’ve been working to develop a sensible approach to let gamers and parents know when a game offers the option to purchase additional content. This label, or as we call it interactive element, will appear on boxes (and wherever those games can be downloaded) for all games that offer the ability to purchase digital goods or premiums with real world currency.

The statement continues, to clarify what will be covered by the new label.

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 move.

Finally, the ESRB announced a new website to help parents understand how their kids might be frittering away their hard-earned.

We’ve also launching a new website ParentalTools.org to help raise awareness of the helpful tools that parents can use to manage the amount of time or money those crafty kids spend playing games. This is the first step of many! We’ll continue to discuss how to further enhance our rating system with publishers, developers, gamers and especially parents, and we’ll continue to make adjustments as the need arises.

The ESRB is going to great lengths to assuage parents concerns that their “crafty kids” will be spending their money. Any money. At all. Which is of course important, when belts are tight and finances are cut to the quick.

However the distinction between more predatory monetisation schemes – randomly generated loot boxes, Gacha games, FIFA Ultimate Team, and all those other whale-hunting tactics – and what many players would consider reasonable practices, like season passes or DLC for console games, or to remove adverts from trial versions of mobile games, has not been made.

The ESRB’s latest statement is effectively making its position clear: that highlighting where any money could be spent – to parents, by their “crafty kids” – rather than cleaning up unsavoury business practices, is their ultimate priority.


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Tom is an itinerant freelance technology writer who found a home as an Editor with Thumbsticks. Powered by coffee, RPGs, and local co-op.