Microtransactions have easily become one of the most contentious subject in modern gaming, especially for the Entertainment Software Association (ESA). On one side, microtransactions help developers continue to make money after a game launches, allowing them to reinvest time and resources into continuing to support the game. However, issues arise when you have games where microtransactions literally block progress forward or hinder those without them, or create a sort of predatory system which many argue follows a similar system as gambling. Fortunately, it seems the ESA is taking steps to finally address the latter issue. It has introduced guidelines for microtransactions and loot boxes to make content more transparent, and several major gaming companies are already on board.
The ESA’s New Microtransaction Guidelines
To curb some the association of microtransactions and loot boxes with gambling, the ESA has offered new policies which aim to make the contents of each far more transparent. The intention is to make these transactions clearly visible to parents with signaling on a game’s box or in the digital stores that the game contains in-game purchases. It also demands that games adhering to these policies disclose information about the rarity of contents contained in loot boxes, as well as clearly disclosing the odds of obtaining the various tiers of content available. If a game adds in-game purchases after launch, such as in an update, this must also be disclosed.
Ultimately, the goal is to ensure that there is no confusion about the presence of in-game purchases and what they entail. It certainly won’t quell all of the suspicion and argument of connection between loot boxes and gambling, but for concerned parents or just people who want to know what they are able to get from a game, it should go some distance in presenting clear conveyance of that information.
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Who Is On Board With ESA’s Microtransaction Rules
The ESA didn’t present this new plan without support behind it. Quite a few major gaming companies have joined in on the situation. Most notably, Nintendo, PlayStation, and Microsoft are on board, and with control of pretty much all console digital storefronts, it means the in-game purchase labels will at least be clearly visible on digital products appearing in each online shop. Moreover, companies that have come under regular flack for microtransaction issues in the past have also gotten on board. Ubisoft, Electronic Arts, Activision Blizzard, and Epic Games just to name a few.
The full list of publishers who have made commitments to the policy can be seen below.
- Activision Blizzard
- BANDAI NAMCO Entertainment
- Bethesda Softworks
- Electronic Arts
- Epic Games
- Sony Interactive Entertainment
- Take-Two Interactive
- Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment
- Wizards of the Coast
Notable absences from this list include Tencent, Riot Games, and Capcom, who handle a lot of games containing microtransactions and loot boxes worldwide. Even so, the list above is a major push in what may become a worldwide standard for how in-game purchases are handled.
When Will The ESA Implement Its Changes?
The new microtransaction and loot box policies may sound great on paper, but change will not happen overnight. Currently the Association hopes that policies will be fully enacted as late as the end of 2020. It will take some time, but with the efforts of major publishers and game companies in its corner for the decision, it will certainly affect most of the worldwide gaming landscape.
What will be the challenge is dispelling the heavy negativity associated with loot boxes and microtransactions in gaming at large. The mere mention of microtransactions is enough to send gaming communities into a frenzy and also force developers to respond to the issue on a regular basis, such as when Gearbox Software CEO had to defend against concerns of microtransactions in Borderlands 3. Even then, politicians and even national governments have shared concern in the matter. Belgium has outright banned loot boxes and US legislators like Senator Josh Hawley have put microtransactions in their crosshairs in the introduction of new bills to the United States Senate.
It’s safe to say that a lot of the negative stigma of microtransactions and their effect on players isn’t going to go away easily, clear labeling or not. Even so, the ESA and other software companies are taking proper steps to address the situation. More transparency in the matter can go a long way in at least ensuring that consumers have what they need when it comes to proper decision-making about games with in-game purchases. Even if microtransactions continue to be a hot-button issue for a lot of players, the new policies from the ESA are certainly a move in a responsible direction for gaming and our interaction with microtransaction mechanics.
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