As part of a number of changes to its Play Store policies, Google now requires developers to disclose the odds of getting loot box items before players purchase the boxes. The move follows growing backlash from consumers and public health officials who compare loot boxes to gambling, expressing concerns that some kids and vulnerable adults are engaging in unhealthy spending patterns related to these offerings.
Loot boxes exploded in popularity on mobile platforms, where developers monetized their free products by offering optional in-game loot boxes teasing possible goods in exchange for currency.
The monetization method has expanded to console gaming and, in some cases, is deliberately designed to restrict gameplay that doesn’t involve loot box purchases.
Though the exact nature of loot boxes varies based on each game, they often work by teasing — but not promising — certain valuable items. Players only know what they receive after they purchase the loot box, and more often than not the items are of low value and usefulness. Vulnerable players seeking high-value items may then repeatedly make purchases without knowing the actual odds of getting the items they want.
Under its updated policies, developers must reveal the loot box odds to players before they purchase the in-game item. The move comes amid growing legal restrictions on loot boxes, which were recently declared a form of gaming in Belgium. As well, China has required loot box odds disclosures since 2017, and the US is currently considering a bill that would make it illegal to sell loot boxes to minors.
The new policy is one of a number of changes Google has made to its Google Play Store rules. In addition to the loot box disclosure, Google has clarified what counts as hate speech, expanded its ban on displays of sexually explicit content, specifically prohibited ‘status symbol apps,’ and banned apps that offer certain things related to cannabis, including an in-app shopping cart and tools for arranging cannabis deliveries.
The full Google Play Store policies can be accessed through the Developer Policy Center here.