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Apple adds new rules for loot boxes, requires disclosure of probabilities

This is a big change

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Apple CEO Tim Cook
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The rise of loot boxes in premium video games was one of the most controversial stories of the year, and it seems like mobile gaming is going to lead the way in providing transparency. Apple has added guidelines to the App Store that make disclosure of loot probabilities mandatory.

The change can be found in the payment section, where it now states the following:

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.

This update mirrors regulations in China that require games with randomized elements disclose the odds that control the “random” loot drops. You’ll have a better idea of how likely you are to get a certain class of item, for instance, or be able to better estimate how many boxes you’d need to open to get a certain card in games like Hearthstone if those items are sold through iOS.

Mandatory disclosure of these odds is a huge shift for games on iOS, although it remains unclear if this sort of transparency will do anything to change player behavior. At least now we’ll be able to see if games are set up in a fair way — giving players a decent or better chance at getting the items they’re hunting for — or whether they’re set up to generate more profits than fun.

Developers and publishers will also have to begin thinking about how their loot box probabilities could impact their reputation once that information is loose in the wild. We could also see the rise of games that offer one set of rules for Apple devices where that information must be disclosed and another for Android devices if Google doesn’t add a similar rule to the Google Play store.

Apple’s decision to take the lead in this area may be due to the very real threat that loot boxes may be regulated by the government if the platform holders don’t step in soon enough.

“These kinds of lootboxes and microtransactions are explicitly designed to prey upon and exploit human psychology in the same way casino games are so designed,” Hawaii State Legislator Chris Lee wrote on Reddit. “This is especially true for young adults who child psychologists and other experts explain are particularly vulnerable. These exploitive mechanisms and the deceptive marketing promoting them have no place in games being marketed to minors, and perhaps no place in games at all.”

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