Looking back at 2017 it is easy to say that loot boxes have been one of the biggest controversies in gaming this year. Loot boxes that cost real world money, and give players only a chance at the item they want are becoming more and more popular in full priced console and PC titles.
Just a few months ago EA landed themselves in particularly hot water over Star Wars: Battlefront and some seemingly impossible loot box odds. Bungie and Destiny 2 also saw push back from fans this year over perceived manipulation of loot drop statistics to increase microtransactions.
However, mobile gamers are in a different situation. Mobile games, particularly those that are free or cheap to play, have been utilizing randomized loot box systems for quite some time, and seemingly players have had no problem paying up for their shot at something exclusive or special. But change my be on the horizon.
The first move towards transparency wasn’t made by EA or any of the big console publishers, but by Apple, aimed at anyone who wants to sell their game on the App Store.
Today Apple updated their App Store Review Guidelines with the following clause:
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.
There is no guarantee that this change will have any effect player behavior or influence future developers. However this type of transparency allows players to know what they are getting into before they spend real world money on in-game items and companies will now have to stop and think about how their reputation might be affected by the odds they attach to certain microtransactions.
The United States currently has no federal laws that regulate disclosing this type of information, though some countries in Asia have already adopted policies to do just that. Blizzard and it’s popular card based Hearthstone were already disclosing card pack odds to audiences in those countries. In the wake of this and accusations that loot boxes encourage gambling, it is possible that legislative change may be in the near future.
Players have probably not seen the last of loot boxes, but if more companies follow in Apple’s footsteps, they may look a bit different in 2018.