In a move that I think Google should follow with the Play Store, Apple revised its App Store guidelines to force developers to disclose the odds of people receiving each type of item from them.
The updated guidelines are a tad vague, in that they do not say exactly where developers should display those odds, though they state that the odds need to be displayed before folks buy loot boxes:
Apps offering ‘loot boxes’ or other mechanisms that provide randomized virtual items for purchase must disclose the odds of receiving each type of item to customers prior to purchase.
For the uninitiated, loot boxes contain a variety of virtual items that contain everything from common to rare in-game items. Some, if not most, games are designed so that you cannot pick up these items separately — you can only get them in loot boxes.
The problem is that many folks see these loot boxes as a predatory and manipulative business model that get people to spend more money on games. More significant, you can purchase loot boxes either with in-game or real-world currency, which, along with their randomness, have forced people to wonder whether loot boxes constitute gambling.
Mobile titles like Hearthstone, Clash Royale, and The Simpsons: Tapped Out all utilize some form of loot boxes, but the virtual grab bags have received more attention than before, thanks to console titles like Middle-earth: Shadow of War and Star Wars Battlefront II.
In an email to Kotaku, the Entertainment Software Rating Board said it does not consider loot boxes to be gambling, since folks are guaranteed to receive in-game items. Some government bodies do not see eye-to-eye with the self-regulatory organization, however, as the UK Gambling Commission and Belgian Gaming Commission are looking into whether loot boxes should be classified as gambling.
This have even caught the attention of Representative Chris Lee (D) from Hawaii, who announced steps to combat the “predatory behavior” of video game publishers in regards to loot boxes.
With players voicing their dissent louder than ever before, and government bodies looking into loot boxes at the legislative level, it’s no surprise then that Apple wants to cover its rear by forcing developers to divulge loot box odds. This isn’t new — China has been doing that since May — but it’ll be interesting how many existing games will be updated.
It will also be interesting to see if other virtual storefronts, namely Google’s Play Store, will follow suit. Similar guidelines make sense for the Play Store, since it also contains many titles that feature some sort of loot box system. Their implementation would not only allow Google to somewhat side-step any impending regulation, but also give people more information about loot boxes and make a more informed decision.