The use of loot boxes has been by far the largest and longest-lasting controversy for videogames in 2017. With game development costs increasing, developers implemented microtransactions, similar to those from online and mobile games, in their blockbuster titles. But the backlash has been strong, even getting to the point of potential legislative intervention. Now Apple, whose App Store may have been ground zero for this controversy, is making steps to protect consumers from the gambling-like nature of loot boxes.
A recent change to the App Store guidelines adds this essential bit in: “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.”
As Polygon points out, there are similar regulations in China that require games to be transparent about the probabilities of receiving coveted items from random loot boxes. Granted, such a change would not necessariliy change player behavior, with these game systems specifically designed to exploit addiction and impulses. But it’s a significant step, especially after authoritative bodies such as the ESRB are still hesitant to call the practice “gambling.”
Games such as Star Wars: Battlefront II and Middle-earth: Shadow of War, in particular, have come under scrutiny for what is perceived to be a “pay-to-win” model. In the case of Battlefront II, publisher EA has issued apology after apology, with accompanying changes. Time will tell whether other big players in the videogame industry will follow in Apple’s footsteps.