The Entertainment Software Rating Board, the agency that doles out age ratings to videogames in North America, declared a couple of days ago that loot boxes, despite their inherent randomness, do not constitute a form of gambling. The reason, simply put, is that while you don't know what you're going to get out of them, you know you're going to get something—unlike a lottery ticket, say, where the great likelihood is that your money is just going up in smoke.
Not everyone agrees with the ESRB's decision, as can you tell from the comments on that post. But two particular groups do: PEGI—Pan European Game Information, which rates games in Europe—and Ukie, UK's game industry trade body, both said that they agree with the ESRB's position.
"In short, our approach is similar to that of ESRB (I think all rating boards do, USK in Germany as well). The main reason for this is that we cannot define what constitutes gambling," PEGI operations director Dirk Bosmans told Wccftech. "That is the responsibility of a national gambling commission. Our gambling content descriptor is given to games that simulate or teach gambling as it’s done in real life in casinos, racetracks, etc. If a gambling commission would state that loot boxes are a form of gambling, then we would have to adjust our criteria to that."
Dr. Jo Twist of Ukie said something similar to Eurogamer. Loot boxes "are already covered by and fully compliant with existing relevant UK regulations," she said. "The games sector has a history of open and constructive dialogue with regulators, ensuring that games fully comply with UK law and has already discussed similar issues as part of last year's Gambling Commission paper on virtual currencies, esports and social gaming."
In other words, it's not the place of regulatory bodies to make the law, but to enforce it. Practically speaking, that means that unless and until governments get involved and start making changes to the rules (which I don't think anyone really wants), game rating agencies aren't going to get involved.
We kicked around some thoughts of our own about loot boxes in the wake of uproars over their presence in Middle-earth: Shadow of War and Star Wars Battlefront 2. Catch up with the conversation, and tell us what you think, right here.