Apple will force all apps offering “loot boxes” to disclose just how likely you are to get each possible item, addressing rising criticism of the in-app purchase that it’s a gateway into gambling. Loot boxes – variously known as loot crates or prize crates – are virtual items which are bought without the purchaser knowing exactly what could be inside. Designed to encourage in-app purchases and introduce a sense of random chance, they’ve been criticized as a money-making scheme and even targeted with anti-gambling legislation.
In November, for example, Star Wars: Battlefront 2 came under unexpected fire for its use of loot boxes. Government officials in both the US and Belgium raised concerns about the system, particularly as it often targets children and young players. The goal of some is to outright ban loot boxes completely, or at least restrict their availability.
Now, Apple is wading into the controversy, in an apparent attempt to cut off further criticism before it has a chance to take hold. It’s doing that not by banning loot boxes, but forcing developers to a greater degree of transparency in how they operate. While there’ll still be some mystery as to what you’ll get, you’ll at least have a better idea of the odds of getting it.
A new section in the updated Apple App Store review guidelines, spotted by TouchArcade, spells out the changes. “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,” the Cupertino company now insists.
The result will presumably be greater disclosure each time you go to buy a loot box, with the developer forced to indicate the actual chance of getting each possible item before any in-app purchase is made. It’s unclear at this point how much of a deterrent that will be: after all, if gamers particularly want one item, and a loot box is the only way to get it, the motivation to take the chance will still be there.
The move follows legislation in China, where loot boxes have already come under new government regulations. Back in May 2017, the Chinese government forced companies offering loot boxes to disclose the odds involved, a process which revealed what chance you actually have of getting, say, coveted Overwatch items. Developer Blizzard responded by confirming that, in the Chinese market at least, each Overwatch loot box would contain at least one “rare” item, with an “epic” item found in every 5.5 boxes, and a “legendary” item in every 13.5 boxes.
Down the line, it’s not hard to envisage loot box purchases being given their own parental control setting. Parents can already lock down whether their kids are able to make in-app purchases, including getting remote alerts – with the ability to approve or block – when such a transaction is made. Being given more granular control over the different types of purchases seems a sensible route.