ESA Says Microsoft, Sony, Nintendo Will Start Disclosing Loot Box Odds

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.”

Star Wars: Battlefront II’s loot boxes and pay-to-win mechanics at launched made marked a turning point in the conversation around in-game purchases. (Gif: EA, Star Wars: Battlefront II)

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.

NSW And Victoria Push For Loot Boxes To Be Classified

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.

Read more

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.


Comments

    Trying to show good faith by offering a weak compromise in order to avoid government regulation, much like reasoning behind creation of the ESRB? Call me cynical, but all I'm seeing here is a pre-emptive attempt to protect the industry's cash cow.

      That's exactly what it is and it's not the only move being made.
      You may have noticed a few games have dropped loot boxes while many newer titles are avoiding them all together and exploring alternative forms of microtransactions.

      To be honest I'm not against the idea either, I would prefer the industry self regulates rather than letting politicians take control with their long standing view of blaming games for the worlds problems and interest in economic and information control.

      Couldn't agree more.

      Those susceptible to such gambling won't be deterred by these odds. The whole point of these things is to side-step the rational, decision making part of the brain.

    Do odds actually matter here? I'm sure plenty of companies have been shady there and would rather keep the odds as vague as possible, but the issue has always been the slot machine like nature of lootboxes. Being open and saying 'you have a 0.5% chance of getting what you want' is easily reframed so that players read it as 'buy a two hundred loot boxes and you'll get it'. I feel like people already have enough data to make an informed decision and the real issues stem from the techniques used to make them ignore that data and make the irrational decision.

      Yeah. One red warning flag amongst all the other psychologically-manipulative bells and whistles does not negate the exploitative nature of the practice.

      It's just like those gambling ads that infest sports coverage, all mumbling out the sides of their mouths, under the breaths in hurried *cough* whispers, "alwaysgambleresponsibly" like some kind of token 'amen' that loses all its impact and meaning, like a child's reluctantly-given, insincere apology.

        I'd love to lock down what 'gamble responsibly' actually means to the people leading the industry, because I'm pretty sure the only thing those apps do to ensure responsible gambling is forcing payments through a secure non-refundable system.

      Are the odds independtly examined and audited?

      Are their penalties for breaching this policy for data failing to or incorrectly reporting odds?

      Are actual odds reported or are they obfuscated by "second chance mechanics"?

      When are they required to report loit boxes and odds? Pre-order, Beta, Day 0, Day 1, or only when lootboxes are available to be sold? The industry has a history of hiding loot boxes from review copies.

      Are there parental controls to allow parebts to block the sale of any loot box? Or the sale of any game containing loot boxes?

      Why is Apple and Google not listed? Mobile games are the worse offenders.

        In theory Microsoft could build the lootbox functionality into their existing storefront. They're already set up to handle in-game currency purchases and DLC license distribution, so it's not that big of a technical leap for them to add a system of randomisation with full transparency on the odds. It would create a system where it's much harder to disguise what's happening. The games would have an index of everything you can't purchase but totally could if they'd allow direct transactions. That's about the only way you'd be able to meaningfully regulate these sorts of systems.

        It'd be terrible in the long run. It'd totally legitimise the practice and make the platforms enough money they'd never turn back.

    I'm pretty sure disclosing odds still doesn't help that these are all luck based.

    Just get rid of loot boxes altogether and sell the items separately, sure you make less at the end of the day but your a whole lot less likely to be seen as a greedy scumbag.

      Destiny 2 has started doing this. You have purchased currency (silver) and earnt in-game currency (bright dust). This seasons They've been rotating items per week to be purchased with both currencies, and have said that each cosmetic item will be purchasable with bright dust at least once per season. They have a stock list of cosmetics that can be bought with silver throughout the season, they also have some cosmetics that you can buy across multiple season. They have even allowed for previous season cosmetics to pop into the weekly rotation and be bought with bright dust.

      It's taken a while to get to this stage but they have been improving on and tweaking it as each season goes along

      They don't care if they are seen as greedy scumbags. It makes money with negligible loss.
      Listen to the twitter uproar of "I'm not buying this game bevause of loot boxes" then buy the game anyway.
      They know most consumers are full of shi and will say they will boycott amd then never do.
      The loot box odds are just to appease goverments so there isn't forced regulation.
      Look at battlefront 2. Oh boo EA we will never buy that game or from you again. 9 million sales later look whose laughing.
      Consumers get treated like idiots because they are.

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