Understanding in-game purchases
Transparency is key to trust, and the industry is committed to providing accurate information to its players and consumers to enable them to make fully informed choices about the games that they play
In-game purchases, sometimes also known as microtransactions, are part of the video games landscape, but they are far from universal. Consumers continue to have plenty of choice without having to engage in any in-game spending. Annually, only 10-20% of video games rated by IARC and PEGI contain in-game purchases. The majority of players enjoy playing video games without ever making a purchase.
Based on clear existing guidance, the industry communicates with players, making sure that in-game offers are in line with consumer law and that players have all the information they need to feel confident and in control when they spend money.
Information about the presence of in-game purchases
All video games rated through the rating bodies PEGI (Pan European Game Information) both for physical and digital video games and IARC (International Age Rating Coalition) for digital-only games, provide information about the presence of in-game purchases prior to purchase. In 2020, PEGI added additional feature descriptors to provide greater transparency for in-game purchases that include random items (such as loot boxes, card packs or prize wheels). This information is displayed as a notice on physical packaging and on digital storefronts. It provides a clearer and more specific label for parents and players to indicate if loot boxes and other randomised mechanics (e.g. loot boxes card packs, prize wheels) are present prior to purchase.
According to the annual GameTrack survey, conducted by Ipsos MORI and commissioned by ISFE, in 2019, 97% of surveyed parents whose children spend money in-game have an agreement of some kind with their children regarding spending.
Transparent information about the probability of receiving a virtual random item (so-called “drop rates”)
The industry also provides transparent information about the probability of receiving a virtual random item. In August 2019, the industry announced a voluntary commitment to provide improved transparency for consumers regarding purchasable random content, such as “loot boxes”.
That commitment consists of two complementary parts: one by major console-makers – Microsoft Xbox, Nintendo, and Sony PlayStation – and a corresponding commitment by video game publishers*. The commitment requires the disclosure of the relative rarity, or probability of obtaining randomised virtual items in paid loot boxes. The disclosure commitment applies to all new games and any updates made to existing games that subsequently add this type of in-game purchase. It should be made in a manner that is understandable and easily accessed.
Since 1 October 2020, major console-makers – Microsoft Xbox, Nintendo, and Sony PlayStation – require publishers to disclose probabilities of paid random items (loot boxes, card packs) in new games and game updates.
Some publishers began providing probability disclosures before 2019, and others are following suit after the voluntary commitment was made last August. In the first five months of this year, publishers have made measurable progress in implementing this voluntary disclosure commitment, consistent with the stated goal to do so before the end of 2020.
As new games are released throughout the rest of the year, additional titles that include paid loot boxes will implement the disclosure.
PROBABILITY DISCLOSURE POLICY ON XBOX
Microsoft released nearly identical probability disclosure policies for the Xbox One and Windows PC last October, and those policies went into effect January 1, 2020. Details on the Windows policy are available here, at Section 10.8.4. The same requirements have been added to the Xbox Publisher Guide, which details requirements for games published for Xbox One.
PROBABILITY DISCLOSURE POLICY ON NINTENDO SWITCH
Nintendo rolled out its probability disclosure guideline in mid-April 2020, which went into effect May 13, 2020. It is part of overall technical Nintendo guidelines that must be complied with in order to publish games for Nintendo Switch. Those guidelines are also incorporated into contracts with game publishers.
PROBABILITY DISCLOSURE POLICY ON PLAYSTATION 4
Sony Interactive Entertainment (SIE) posted its policy for probability disclosures at the beginning of June. This policy applies to all games published for the PlayStation platform from October 1, 2020 at the latest. All publishers must comply with this policy, like many other policies and technical requirements, for publication on the PlayStation platform. It is incorporated into SIE’s contracts with game publishers.