Apple has become the first major app marketplace provider to address the recent gambling in gaming controversy. The company has updated their App Store guidelines with a change that could impact many upcoming games and the effects will likely be felt by Android gamers as well. Apple’s guidelines now have a clause that governs loot boxes, gacha draws, and other gambling-like elements that developers use to monetize their games. The new guideline is as follows:
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.
Taken at face value, this would mean that gamers will now have a better idea of their chances of drawing a particular item in a loot box, or character from a gacha draw.
Impact on Android
Google has yet to implement a similar rule, but they might not need to. There is a good chance that as developers comply with Apple’s rules, Android users will have access to the same data as their iOS counterparts. This is not necessarily due to good will from developers but for the sake of not worrying about changing things for just one platform and to avoid any appearance of impropriety.
Not so fast
As with all things, expectations should be tempered. As currently written, Apple’s new rule is up to interpretation. There are two components that developers and publishers looking to obfiscate their randomized loot systems can look two.
First is the “type of item” part of the new rule. An item type could be extremely broad or it could have pinpoint precession. Would disclosing the odds of getting any 5-star character be enough to constitute appropriate disclosure? Or would developers be required to state the odds of each individual character? Could a game disclose the odds of drawing a fire elemental character and have that count as disclosing the odds of getting a type of item? This leaves a lot of room for interpretation and it will likely wind up being settled by Apple’s review team.
The second part which could significantly impact this rule is what constitutes a “purchase”. The rule is in the monetization section of the guideline, so one could interpret it to mean that it applies to purchases gamers make via in app purchase. That would bring into question whether this rule would apply to purchases made using basic or premium currency. As most games use premium currency instead of having gamers buy loot boxes or gacha pulls directly, this would limit the rule’s effectiveness. Again, this will wind up being a matter that will be looked over by Apple’s review team in the future.
A step forward
Regardless of the effectiveness of Apple’s new rule regarding loot boxes, they have advanced the conversation on gambling in games. They moved forward with regulations before most governments and competitor marketplaces have had a chance to react. This is a first step on the way to empowering users to make informed choices when spending their money on digital goods. Hopefully other companies follow in Apple’s footsteps on the issue of gambling in games and go further by developing clearer guidelines about disclosure and perhaps even labeling and advertising.