AFTER MONTHS OF CONTROVERSY, ESRB WILL ADD 'IN-GAME PURCHASES' LABEL TO GAMES
The Entertainment Software Ratings Board (ESRB) announced today that they will be adding an “In-Game Purchases” label to any video game which allows for the possibility of in-game purchases in”games with in-game offers to purchase digital goods or premiums with real world currency, including but not limited to bonus levels, skins, surprise items (such as item packs, loot boxes, mystery awards), music, virtual coins and other forms of in-game currency, subscriptions, season passes and upgrades (e.g., to disable ads.)”
The controversy around loot boxes gained mainstream traction last year when EA infamously walled off significant amounts of content and in-game power behind loot boxes, or in-game packages with randomly-determined items.
In some cases loot boxes contain cosmetic items only, e.g. character skins (different colored uniforms for a solider, say) which is an approach that popular games like Overwatch have taken. EA’s approach, one which is commonly found in mobile games, was to include in-game items which actually give users in-game benefits (e.g. stronger weapons that can be used in-game when fighting other players,) commonly referred to as “pay to win” mechanics.
The ESRB’s labeling seems like a half-hearted first step that doesn’t address the major concerns around loot boxes (e.g. whether they are exploitative, and whether games that utilize their gambling-like mechanics and are marketed to children are arguably kid’s casinos) because the labeling is simply too broad– paying extra for additional levels or disabling ads is generally considered to be fair game in the industry, while loot boxes are a far more controversial practice. Lumping in all in-game purchases together does little to give parents and consumers warning about whether the game in question has potentially addictive mechanics in it.
With that said, the ESRB’s defense of their incredibly broad approach is that most parents are not familiar with loot boxes, so taking a more granular approach to labeling would not be helpful. Also in fairness to the ESRB, taking this first step does not prevent them from taking future steps to better distinguish between loot boxes and other in-game transactions (e.g. buying a skin directly.)
Whether you interpret this first step by the ESRB as willful obfuscation of the issue or a well-meaning half-measure meant to get the conversation started, there’s little doubt that loot boxes and in-game microtransactions will remain a hot topic for the foreseeable future.
(Editor’s note: For a well-researched overview on the history of loot boxes with a specific focus on EA from one of its most vocal critics, check out this longform overview by Skill Up.)
MY FORTNITE EXPERIENCE
Fortnite: Battle Royale is the game of the moment. Back on February 8th, according to PCGamesN, Fortnite surpassed 3.4 million active concurrent players, beating Player Unknown Battle Grounds (PUBG)’s previously reported record. Fortnite currently counts at least 40 million total players while the game only launched in July. Also, Fortnite draws higher viewership on Twitch than PUBG. Indeed, according to The Esports Observer, Fortnite generated 13 million hours of watched content on Twitch, ranking the game second behind league of Legends (18.9M) and in-front of PUBG (12.2M), reinforcing the idea Fortnite established itself as the number one Battle Royale game.
What are the reasons behind Fortnite’s massive success?
Available on all platforms
The battle royale video game genre has been extremely popular in 2017. As a gamer myself, I was interested in trying PUBG earlier this year but the game was and is still not available on PS4. This constitutes a massive difference between Fortnite and PUBG. By being available on all platforms: PlayStation, Xbox, Microsoft, and Mac, Fortnite brings together a larger community of gamers. Only issue: Fortnite is not a split screen game, meaning one device can only be used by one player. Therefore, people play online, communicating through gaming headsets, or even bring their own TVs and consoles to their friends’!
Simple… and free
Fortnite is a simple game to play even though winning is a bit more complicated and will require a few hours of training. After landing on the map, the player’s main goal is to find weapons, stay in the surviving zone, and kill all enemies until the last. Although there is only one map, it is a large area that is constantly being tweaked. The graphics of Fortnite are simpler than PUBG, which is more realistic. Fortnite offers a Pixar-esque cartoon style, reminding me of Overwatch or Call of Duty Black Ops 2. Most importantly, the game is entirely downloadable for free. If you want to spend money in Fortnite: Battle Royaleyou can buy the Battle Pass, which will give you new outfits, gliders, an axe, emotes, and other items. All those items are cosmetic only and do not affect gameplay in any way. The Battle Pass costs 950 V-Bucks, which is $9.50.
Fortnite, a game as a service
Epic Games uses a new development feature called “level streaming”, allowing them to add more content with ease, including new weapons, player skins, game plays, or map changes. Epic shows great attentiveness to its gaming community and releases updates to fix whatever the players do not like. The game keeps evolving and stays exciting for players. Last Thursday, Fortnite: Battle Royale launched a new 3.0.0. update. This new update includes a new weapon and a spacial-themed Season 3 available for all players for free. The season 3 pass will have 100 tiers and should take between 75 hours and 150 hours to complete in order to unlock cosmetic and ineffective goodies.
One cannot perfectly describe Fortnite without addressing the insane rush of adrenaline you will feel while playing this game. You have certainly seen someFortnite videos on your different social media platforms; the set-up is often similar: a gamer around all of his or her friends screaming of joy after killing the last enemy. I personally had the chance to win a game (though after many losses). That feeling you have when only one enemy remains standing is what makes Fortnite so special: your heartbeat starts accelerating and your level of stress rises. Winning the game once will only make you want to play again to experience the same feeling.