Although the controversy surrounding loot boxes caught fire thanks to PC and console games like Star Wars Battlefront 2, mobile games have been heavily criticized for relying on them. Now, iOS platform holder Apple is doing something about it.
Apple has rolled out an updated set of guidelines for iOS app developers to follow when building, promoting, and describing their apps. In section 3.1.1 of the guidelines, which regards in-app purchases (microtransactions), it states that “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 guideline is similar to the laws in some countries which state that game creators must publicly reveal the odds of their loot boxes. For example, Blizzard had to reveal Overwatch loot box drop rates due to a Chinese law. Other games, such as Nintendo’s gacha-style title Fire Emblem Heroes, also tell players likelihood of getting rare character unlocks.
For those campaigning to have loot boxes classed as gambling, the updated guidelines may not seem like a big deal. Apple isn’t taking a stand and outright banning loot boxes from iOS games, or even offering some suggestions on how app developers can best include loot boxes in a way that isn’t ‘pay to win.’ The drop rates themselves and the implementation are still up to the developers themselves.
However, this is still a step forward for gamers concerned about the monetization model. Players will be less likely to get duped, spending ridiculous amounts of money on games where the odds of getting worthwhile rewards are slim to none.
Apple explains that it wants to “provide a safe experience for users to get apps and a great opportunity for all developers to be successful.” It also says that apps that fail to meet these guidelines may be rejected during the review process. In that case, developers will have to go back and fix those issues, which will only delay the game’s release.
In any case, many mobile players will be glad to see Apple addressing the issue. The loot box controversy is ongoing and seems to be affecting game sales as well as legislation. Apple will likely have to update these guidelines again soon to keep up with the changes, but those unhappy with loot boxes will be delighted with this initial step.