Op-Ed: Is that fair? Balatro hit with change in age rating from 18 years


The opinions expressed in this publication are those of the author(s). They do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of PokerNews or its members.

A bunch of us here PokerNews were absolutely thrilled and amazed by the sensational “Poker, Rogue-Lite” game Balatro. For my part, I’ve postponed several bedtimes to fit in “just one more” run (it’s never just one), and I know for a fact that my colleagues have done the same, whether they admit it or not.

We’re not the only ones with Balatro-related panda eyes either. The game was a huge success on various platforms, selling over 250,000 copies in the first three days. Many fans say they can’t stop playing it. But our favorite game, “Poker Instead of Poker,” was in the headlines for a variety of reasons.

Various players outside of America have found this out The game had disappeared from the Nintendo Switch eShop while Balatro also received a Pegi rating of 18+ for its depiction of celebrity gambling images. Is that fair? I don’t think that is the case, and I will try to explain why, but first I will explain what has happened in the last few days.

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The views expressed in this article are those of the author alone and are not expressed by PokerNews.

Explanation of Playstack problems

When PokerNews first wrote about Balatro, the age rating was 3+, but this has since been changed to 18+ and video game companies Playstack went to X to address the situation.

“We understand that Balatro has been temporarily removed from sale in some digital stores on console platforms in some countries, meaning some new customers will not be able to purchase it,” Playstack said. “At this time we cannot estimate with absolute certainty which stores it will be removed from.”

“This is not a problem with the stores themselves, but rather a response to an overnight change in Balatro’s age rating from 3+ to 18+ by a ratings board without notice due to the erroneous belief that the game “contains conspicuous gambling images and” material that taught about gambling.’”

Then, on March 4, Playstack released another update about which platforms will and will not be affected by the age rating change. Luckily, the game is still available on most platforms, with only Nintendo users having difficulty accessing it.

“After further analysis, we can now confirm that changes to Balatro’s age rating have only affected one platform in limited regions. We expect to be available everywhere again later this week.”

At PokerNewsWe are committed to promoting responsible gaming. We encourage all of our readers to gamble responsibly and within their means.

There are no real money components at Balatro. The game currently does not offer any in-app purchases other than the starting price.

Visit our dedicated Safer Gaming hub for more information about safe and responsible gaming.

When is gambling, gambling?

Users cannot play for real money at Balatro; It is simply a game where the goal is to form poker hands from the deck of cards in the game. Does this mean that the Solitaire that comes pre-installed on old Windows computers should be renamed to 18+ because it uses gambling images, in this case a deck of cards?

Then of course there is the broader debate about loot boxes in titles like EA FCwhere kids can freely spend $X in hopes of grabbing one Lionel Messi or Neymar For example. Surely this mechanic is more akin to gambling than anything Balatro presents? Especially when the latter has no microtransactions in the game. Once you pay the $15 to purchase the game, that is the only money a user spends. Additionally, you are competing with the computer/AI. You don’t even play other people.

The age rating fiasco is something the developers thought had been ironed out before the game’s release. In October, Playstack successfully overturned an initial 18+ age rating in an appeal, in which the ratings board said: “We have reviewed your product and determined that the gambling disclosure was unwarranted.”

No content changes have been made to the game since the move to 3+, so this current decision seems extremely harsh. The sole developer behind the game, @localthunk, also responded in one Social media postwhich caught the attention of streamers and poker players Ludwigwho uploaded a YouTube video in defense of his “favorite game.”

Ludwig’s and my views are very similar, and the former also raises valid points regarding the gambling elements in Balatro. Like me, Ludwig doesn’t see solitaire as a game of chance. While we both agree that there are lucky charms to be had when playing both games, that is simply due to the “randomness”.

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Additionally, while the hand ranking system is clearly influenced by poker, there are some hands you can play in the game that simply aren’t possible in poker, such as five of a kind where you can use the same suit. Do not believe me? Check out our poker rules page!

The age rating change also impacted content creators. Balatro videos were removed and demonetized, which is just ridiculous in my opinion. Once again: where is the promotion of gambling? Due to a misunderstanding that was initially resolved, money is being taken out of working people’s pockets.

Maybe everything will be sorted out in the coming days or weeks, which means this will just be another babble on the internet. But for now, the decision to make Balatro 18+ due to supposed gambling elements is a farce.

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Calum Grant

Editor and live reporter

Calum joined the PokerNews team in September 2021 after working in the UK energy sector. He played his first hand of poker in 2017 and immediately fell in love with the game. Calum’s proudest poker achievement is winning the only tournament he has ever played in Las Vegas, the prestigious $60 Flamingo evening event.


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