December 22, 2017 // 11:47 a.m.
Apple has issued new guidelines to the use of microtransactions in software published through its App Store, requiring that anything offering so-called 'loot boxes' for purchase must make the odds available beforehand - echoing the laws regarding gambling in the UK.
While there have been warnings that 'loot boxes' - items, typically purchasable for real-world cash, which give the player a chance at some rare or otherwise desirable in-game item - may be pushing gambling onto young children, they are not classified as gambling in the UK unless there's a means to cash out 'winnings'. Apple, however, is seemingly getting ahead of the increasing bad feeling against the mechanism by borrowing from traditional gambling law and requiring that the odds of success are made visible prior to any cash changing hands.
Under UK law, as well as elsewhere in the world, gaming machines are required to display the return-to-player percentage - the amount of money a player can expect to get back as they feed coins into its gaping maw. While in-game loot boxes with no cash-out mechanism aren't technically gambling under UK law, it's this model that Apple is voluntarily mimicking with the announcement that odds must be clearly displayed prior to purchase - meaning that, from now on, anyone buying a game with loot boxes from Apple's App Store will be able to see just how likely or unlikely they are to actually receive the much-coveted item for which they are typing in their credit card details.
'Apps offering "loot boxes" or other mechanisms that provide randomised virtual items for purchase must disclose the odds of receiving each type of item to customers prior to purchase,' Apple's freshly updated developer guidelines state. This is in addition to rules against the expiration of in-app purchases, the requirement for a restoration mechanism to be in place should a player lose a paid-for item through no fault of their own, and the requirement that purchased content cannot be directly or indirectly gifted - a way to skirt the 'it's only gambling if you can cash out' issue.
The guidelines are live now, though it may be some time before developers are able to update their applications accordingly.