VSG prominently displays important information from the Entertainment Software Ratings Board (ESRB), an American self-regulatory organization that assigns age and content ratings to consumer video games. The ESRB was established in 1994 after a flood of complaints arose from parents about the content of video games. Today, the board uses a combination of six age-based levels intended to aid consumers in determining a game’s content and suitability, along with a system of “content descriptors” which detail specific types of content present in a particular game.
While the ESRB has faced criticism, there is little doubt that its voluntary leverage of the industry has been effective, and it has been praised as such by the Federal Trade Commission, who labelled the non-profit as the “strongest” self-regulatory organization in the entertainment sector. Regardless, the information ESRB provides is important and VSG displays pertinent data from ESRB on all game hubs.
VSG displays ESRB’s age-based level (descriptions of which can be found on the ESRB website) under the section entitled “Game Details.” Additionally, VSG prominently displays ESRB tags about “In-Game Purchases”, “Shares Location”, and “Users Interact” at the top of all game hubs.
VSG believes that customers are entitled to be informed of the nature of paid content in games. We are looking to add more business model information to VSG – for example, whether a game’s content is “exclusively paid” or available for free in game; whether it can be purchased directly or only acquired through loot boxes; etc. However, because this information is not self-reported by video game developers and publishers, it is difficult to identify (and confirm) the presence of these monetization models.
In 2012, ESRB began assigning Interactive Elements for digital games and apps, and extended those labels to physical games in 2018. In-game purchases is one such “interactive element” labelled by ESRB, a broad category that includes microtransactions/loot boxes. Here’s how ESRB defines this category:
In-Game Purchases. “Contains in-game offers to purchase digital goods or premiums with real world currency, including but not limited to bonus levels, skins, music, virtual coins and other forms of in-game currency, subscriptions, season passes and upgrades (e.g., to disable ads).”
In-Game Purchases (Including Random Items). “Contains in-game offers to purchase digital goods or premiums with real world currency (or with virtual coins or other forms of in-game currency that can be purchased with real world currency) for which the player doesn’t know prior to purchase the specific digital goods or premiums they will be receiving (e.g., loot boxes, item packs, mystery rewards).”
ESRB’s “Shares Location” label indicates that the game “Includes the ability to display the user’s location to other users of the app.” This is, potentially, a huge privacy concern.
While not nearly as controversial as the previous two categories, ESRB’s “Users Interact” label identifies the presence of multiplayer components – specifically, the label “Indicates possible exposure to unfiltered/uncensored user-generated content, including user-to-user communications and media sharing via social media and networks.”