Is Donald Trump going to take away our video games? Are loot boxes going to go away? Today on Kotaku Splitscreen, let’s discuss.
First, Kirk and I talk about Trump, loot boxes, and Diablo for Switch (6:27). Then we dig into some of the games we’ve been playing (41:14), such as Dishonored: Death of the Outsider, Arkham Knight, and Ni no Kuni 2.
Get the MP3 right here, or read a brief excerpt from the episode:
Jason: At the end of the day [the ESRB’s decision to add an “In-Game Purchases” label to games] might be kabuki, political theatre, because it’s not like these labels actually mean anything. What matters is what companies are doing about loot boxes.
Kirk: I think there’s an important distinction missing, and that’s the randomised element. That’s the thing that is not included in this distinction, and that’s the thing that parents might not understand. It’s probably the important thing that the ESRB or whoever else could be explaining, in really clear, no uncertain terms language. There are in-game purchases, sure, there are plenty of games that kids play where you can just buy stuff if you want. That’s pretty well understood by parents, but I think the random element of loot boxes, which is also the thing that makes them feel like gambling, the fact that you’re paying for something but you don’t quite know what. You’re buying things, and then you watch this whole addictive animation play out as the slot machine spins. That strikes me as something they didn’t address, and that’s a problem.
Jason: Well if this is designed for parents, and you’re a parent, do you really care if your kid is spending money on microtransactions or loot boxes?
Kirk: I think the distinction matters.
Jason: It matters for us, for adult gamers, but does it matter for parents?
Kirk: I think it matters that more people understand the difference. Because there’s a significant difference between buying something in a game and buying this thing that’s been totally engineered to suck you in, and make you want to buy more, and not give you what you want but give other things, and have this whole exciting animation that plays. I do think parents should understand what that is and how these things are designed – they’re using all these gambling tricks, casino tricks that don’t really exist in the microtransaction setup.
Jason: Yeah, you’re totally right, and it’s a cop-out to be like, “Well parents don’t understand it, so we’re just going to label things with this In-Game Purchases label.” The other side of the coin here is that the ESRB is a subsidiary of the ESA, which is paid for and run by video game companies.
Kirk: Right, this is not a parental watchdog organisation.
Jason: This is the video game industry regulating itself. And if you look back in history, the ESRB is responsible for the rating system. And they started because the government was starting to poke around and saying, “Hey should we be regulating these video games?” And the video game industry stepped up and said, “No no no no, you don’t need to be involved here, we’ll do it ourselves.”
Kirk: If this were a negotiation, this would be the first step – “How about we do this?” In this case maybe they’re hoping they can say this and there won’t be a follow-up of “No, there’s a distinction here, and you’re not getting down to the heart of the matter.” It will be interesting to see if it goes another step or just stops here.
Jason: Yeah, there are a lot of interesting questions here, and I find this really interesting, especially the question of whether the government should regulate loot boxes. Like in Hawaii we’re seeing some of the state representatives try to push forward legislation that A) bans games with loot boxes from being sold to people who are under 21, and B) requires companies to label, put “loot boxes” on the sides of boxes almost like cigarette warnings. So there’s a lot of conversations around that which I find really interesting. On one hand, the idea of the government regulating video games in any way feels like it’s got all sorts of red flags. The last thing we want as aficionados of video games is the government being involved when it comes to regulating and controlling who does what. On the flip side, if the end goal of this legislation is that companies stop using loot boxes entirely, that’s a win-win to me.
Kirk: It reminds me of something you’ve said a lot, which is a lot of game companies are nervous now, and it has less to do with politicians and more to do with how angry gamers got… Everyone wants to avoid that, so it may wind up being moot. This could’ve been the low point of loot box madness, and then for a variety of reasons it just falls out of fashion. Which would be fine by me.