The Entertainment Software Association (ESA) has announced that Microsoft, Nintendo, and Sony will be required to implement new policies requiring the disclosure of all loot box odds for games on their platforms.
“I’m pleased to announce this morning that Microsoft, Nintendo, and Sony have indicated to ESA a commitment to new platform policies with respect to the use of paid loot boxes in games that are developed for their platform,” Michael Warnecke, ESA’s chief counsel for tech policy, said earlier today at a workshop on loot boxes held by the Federal Trade Commission.
“Specifically, this would apply to new games and game updates that add loot box features, and it would require the disclosure of the relative rarity or probabilities of obtaining randomised virtual items in games that are available on their platforms.”
When reached for comment, the ESA directed Kotaku to a blog post on the organisation’s website, in which the organisation says the console makers are planning to implement this new policy sometime in 2020.
It also states that many of the industry’s major publishers, including Activision Blizzard, Bandai Namco, Bethesda, Bungie, Electronic Arts, Take-Two Interactive, Ubisoft, and Warner Bros., have agreed to implement a similar disclosure policy “no later than the end of 2020.”
When asked about the coming changes, a Sony spokesperson gave Kotaku the following statement:
“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. We support industry efforts to disclose the probability of obtaining randomised virtual items, known as loot boxes, and are committed to providing consumers with this information for all games we produce and publish.”
Microsoft and Nintendo did not immediately respond to a request for comment. [Update - 2:34pm]: “We believe in transparency with customers and providing them information for making their purchase decisions,” a spokesperson for Microsoft said in an email.
“This is why by 2020 all new apps or games offering “loot boxes” or other mechanisms on Microsoft platforms that provide randomised 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.”
Nintendo provided the following statement:
“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 randomised 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 announcement came after Warnecke listed the other ways the video game industry has already attempted to self-regulate in the past with regard to loot boxes. It’s a topic that has come under increasing government scrutiny after it made headlines in late 2017 following the release of Star Wars: Battlefront II. While games currently include labels indicating whether they contain microtransaction purchases, and video game consoles also have parental controls that can be implemented to limit how much money children spend in-game, the industry is clearly feeling pressure to go further.
With just under a month until the Senate inquiry into "gaming microtransactions for chance-based items" - loot boxes and such - reports back, more submissions to the inquiry have been made public. Two of those submissions have come from the Victorian Minister for Gaming and Liquor Regulation, as well as the NSW Government's deputy secretary of Liquor, Gaming and Racing, and both submissions are encouraging an update to the classification guidelines to recognise loot boxes.
Warnecke explained that these new policies are meant to provide “a comprehensive approach to ensuring consumers get the information they need so they can make informed purchasing decisions when it comes to paid loot boxes.”
Another potential change could come from legislation from Congress, like that which was previously proposed by Republican Senator Josh Hawley from Missouri. In May, Hawley introduced a bill in the Senate that would try to ban minors from obtaining games containing microtransactions and loot boxes.
While requiring games sold on their platforms disclose loot box odds would be new for the major console gaming platforms, it’s a policy already being implemented on mobile. Apple announced that requirement for games on iOS in 2017, while Google made similar changes only this past May.