One of the more interesting events of gaming in 2017 was the virtual protest of sorts staged by gamers against the proliferation of microtransactions; loot boxes, in particular, were heavily criticized for their disturbing similarity to slot machines, to say nothing of how a game’s quality can potentially be sacrificed in favor of making a company a quick buck. While the results of such outcries remain to be seen, it is clear that enough noise was made for some very large and very influential entities to take notice, the most notable of which included some of the larger national media outlets and a couple of politicians. Evidently wishing to remain on the good side of public opinion, Apple has recently taken actions to update their app store’s guidelines, especially in regards to in-app purchases.
For the most part, the new guidelines are rather mundane. There’s the usual assortment of rules that cover things like discriminatory content, medical apps, location services, and child privacy laws, but there’s also a rather interesting addition to the guideline’s “In-app Purchases” section- 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 new rule mirrors the “Loot Box Law” enacted by China that requires developers to disclose the drop rates of items found in loot boxes, thus theoretically providing consumers a chance to, well, know their chances before potentially spending thousands of dollars on fake items. Failure to comply with such guidelines could, in short, predictably result in the removal of an app from the app store.
Given that people love to disregard warnings about anything and everything though, it is rather doubtful that Apple’s new app guidelines will do much to dissuade developers from putting predatory microtransactions into their games and apps or discourage people from buying loot boxes for mobile games. After all, there is a reason why mobile games have a notoriety surrounding them when it comes to microtransactions, and it certainly isn’t because people are good at resisting the temptation of some glittering virtual prize. That being said, even if Apple’s move is purely for show, at the very least it will provide some rather interesting information on which games and apps are perhaps a bit too stingy for anyone’s good.