Another victory has been won against loot boxes. Well, in Europe at least. PEGI, a European ratings body, has decided to add a new descriptor to games. It will alert people to in-game purchases with a new indicator. This means when someone goes to not only get a digital copy, but a physical one as well, there will be something of a scarlet letter branding the game and letting people know it might eventually want more money. This seems like a good idea, right?
When these PEGI ratings appear on games, they will be essentially branded. An icon will appear showing that purchases are present. It is very blatant as to its intentions, as it shows a giant hand holding a credit card. The idea is to let people know in-game purchases are possible, so people who want to avoid that can. But, what if this is too vague? Could such an icon do more harm than good, if people see it and then do not know enough to actually look and see why the marking is there?
The problem here is, the icon is not being descriptive enough. The vagueness there has the potential to hurt both people and games. When all you see is a credit card and notation of in-game purchases, it is not letting you know what sorts of situations you are dealing with. After all, most games do have some kind of additional purchases available. This can be fair DLC, which is substantial, good, and priced in a way that does not exploit people. It could also be nickel and dime microtransactions that could add up, all because the benefits are temporary. Maybe it is even applying to loot boxes, where you don’t know what you get when you pay, until after you open it, and could end up needing to buy more.
Not being specific could hurt sales a lot. Especially since it would be easy to be specific. Rather than slapping an image on there, a line of text could be applied. When games carry a rating, say “Mature” for this example, there will also be written descriptions. We might see that it is because of violence, illegal substances, or sexual content. PEGI this icon with a credit card might be too vague.
Especially since we know people who buy games and might not be as up on the lingo and situations might misinterpret things. The people who would most need an icon like this are parents or guardians buying a game for kids. Now, this should absolutely be on a game like Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 or Grand Theft Auto V. Both are the sorts of games which have or will have in-game purchases that could be considered predatory. (Not to mention, they are for mature audiences and should not be played by kids anyway.) But, this also means a kid-friendly game like LEGO Super-Villains could have this label, since it has extra add-ons.
There is a need to warn people, certainly. Loot boxes and microtransactions can be predatory. But, it needs to be done in a clear and proper way. When PEGI starts labeling games, it is going to have to make sure people can understand. Because with how many games have add-ons and the range of extras that can be available, just slapping a hand with a credit card on it is not going to be helpful. More specifics are needed, or else it could hurt sales, games, and people.