About 3 weeks ago on December 21st, Apple added a small term to it’s T&C for app publishers.
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.
Most of you probably missed it during the holiday season as did I but a few major publications caught the change and reported it quickly. Here is the report in PocketGamer and in The Verge. This change might be a response to an increasing interest of some of the regulators in the loot boxes concept. It started with Starwars Battlefront 2 criticism on reddit when a response by EA became the most downvoted comment on reddit ever. The “loot box” monetization strategy along side the game appeal to kids caused a few regulators to take notice. Most notabely, the State of Hawaii announced they will work on legistlation to ban loot boxes and Belgian officials said they would like loot boxes banned as it’s a form of gambling.
The top 25 grossing games were not effected
One might think that the change made by Apple will make a big impact on game publishers given how popular loot boxes are. In reality, however, none of the top 25 grossing games made any changes. The reason, is that none of them are selling loot boxes as in-app purchases. While loot boxes are popular, they are commonly sold for virtual currency which can be bought for cash. If you look at the top 25 grossing apps, the items that are listed in the app store for purchase are packs of: quartzes, diamonds, crystals, gold, coins, gems. The only game we could find that will have to make a change is Hearthstone.
What about in-game loot boxes
Apple didn’t entirely ban loot boxes that can be purchased inside the game with in-game currency. The regulators however might decide to address this type of loot box as well. There are many game elements that are randomized, therefore the question arises of where the distinction will take place. It’s one thing to ban something that is purchasable, but if any randomized game element is banned, pandora’s box will open. My guess is that regulators will focus on purchasable items and games that are made for kids.
If gambling with VC is illegal than what about social casino
The comment by Belgian officials was that loot boxes are a form of gambling and therefore should be banned. What is a bit odd is that there are more obvious forms of gambling that are not banned yet – the social casino apps. Either these officials have a double standard when it comes to mobile games or they haven’t opened the top grossing charts recently.
The clear winner is rewarded video
Aside from kids and their parents who might get to keep more money in their wallets, the companies who provide monetization via ads and rewarded videos will probably benefit from these regulations if they happen. Ad based monetization models are becoming more popular in the mobile game industry and the fact that Apple is adding limitations on in-app purchases pushes more game developers in towards ads.