Apple calls on app makers to publish loot box odds in acknowledgement of ‘online gambling’ element

  • Gamers will see the odds of winning prizes
  • Many leading iOS apps include loot crate purchases

Games which appear in Apple’s App Store will face tougher regulation of in-game gambling elements, with the tech company confirming that developers must publish their loot box odds in future.

Apple is asking that odds for any games are displayed for players.
Apple is asking that odds for any games are displayed for players.

This will give players information about their chances of picking up certain prizes when they make in-game purchases.

The move acknowledges the gambling element that makes loot boxes so popular – although the counter-argument has always been that loot boxes always offer a prize, or reward, unlike traditional land-based or online casino wagering.

“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 new Apple guidelines read.

The change will affect a huge number of gaming apps, including some of the most popular ‘freemium’ games available.

Loot boxes and video gaming

There has been plenty of controversy this year about the risks and rules of loot box purchases in video games.

Loot crates are digital treasure chests which contain useful in-game items, such as power ups, weapons and outfits. While they are sometimes issued as rewards for completing tasks in the game, modern games often allow players to buy extra crates. This might use in-game virtual currency, but often asks for real cash.

However, players do not know what is in their box when they buy it. The rewards are often entirely random – and this is where comparisons with gambling come in. Opening the crates has been likened to spinning a slot machine, and there are fears players could become hooked on loot box purchases – or on other forms of gambling. This is especially true of young people who play games, as they could be more vulnerable to gambling harm.

The argument came to a head upon the release of the Star Wars: Battlefront video game, this year, in which upon launch, scrutiny was placed over the loot box system and their appeal to children.

Apple takes a stand

Apple has entered into the debate this week, announcing that it will require app developers to publish the odds of winning for all loot box purchase markets. Apps which do not comply with Apple policy face being pulled from the App Store – and missing out on the million of potential customers who use iOS technology.

Star Wars Battlefront II will now not have loot boxes or microtransactions.
Star Wars Battlefront II was at the centre of the controversy on loot crates this year.

Players will see firsthand what the chances of each outcome are. This will help them make informed choices about the crates they buy, and assess the value for themselves before risking real or virtual currency. While this is a great outcome for players, who want to be better informed about the potential outcome of their loot box buy, it does place game developers on the back foot. If there are odds to be published on a game of chance, loot crates start to look a little more like a gambling activity.

Opinion divided on loot box regulation

The Entertainment Software Ratings Board recently declared it would not restrict gaming content based on a game’s use of loot boxes. Video game developers say that loot box buys are not gambling because players are guaranteed to win something. It is just the perceived value of the prize which differs. Developers, especially in the mobile app sector, have been using a loot crate purchase model for several years now but the backlash has only recently gathered pace.

Lawmakers in a number of European nations have been debating whether to class games with loot boxes as gambling, and what the implications of such a decision may be. Video games in the future could require a gambling license, and be subject to relevant regulations and taxes. This could be costly and unsustainable for the gaming industry.

Casinos already cleared

Online casino apps are available from the App Store, but Apple reviews and makes sure those apps are only available to the right legal jurisdictions. Often apps are used by players for smoother and more user friendly online casino play, particularly ones well set up for mobile casino experiences.

Read our mobile casinos guide to find out more.

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